Saturday, 31 October 2015

POEM - Pretty Fly (for a poem)

Oh goodness - I've done another one! That's two in one week! Hashtag productivity.

It's another sonnet I'm afraid. This one's a re-imagining of the classic Offspring song Pretty Fly (for a white guy)...

Pretty Fly (for a poem)
While many men are stylish and urbane,
The subject of our tale has no such flair;
And everything he tries, he tries in vain!
His aspirations sunk without a care.

He’s drawn a thirty-one upon his flesh,
And bought the music of Vanilla Ice.
For all that work, he’s still not funky fresh!
He’ll never be a journalist for Vice.

I beg you, darling, give me what I'm owed –
Or I will count in Spanish till I'm paid.
Most ladies think me charming, even though
My countenance is much too pale a shade.

Sometimes distinction comes to those who wait.
(But you can always go on Ricki Lake.)

Thursday, 29 October 2015

POEM - Pop Sonnet #4

Pop Sonnets is still one of my favourite blogs on tumblr, and whenever I get writer's block, I have a go at writing one of my own pop sonnets to try an get my creativity back.

I should explain: in order to create a pop sonnet, you need to take the lyrics to a famous pop song and transform them into a sonnet, written in Shakespearian-style language.

I've written a couple of these now, and this time round I decided to write about No Scrubs by TLC. Because Why not? And, having loved this song *so much* when it first came out, I was massively surprised to realise how materialistic and codependent the lyrics are! This counted as 'Girl Power' in the nineties? Yikes!

No Scrubs

I will not give my love to reprobates;
Those gentlemen without the means to pay.
So, if you own no carriage or estate,
Then I will grant you leave to go away.

My digits will remain a mystery –
And neither will I bid you give me yours.
I have to say, you're just not right for me.
In fact, your very being I deplore!

I will not give my love to ne'er-do-wells;
Those gentleman who shout from passing cabs.
I know that you suspect that we would gel
(But I suspect that you might give me crabs).

To scallywags and scamps I gift no love;
I cannot build my life upon a Scrub.

'Coz I'm looking like class and he's looking like trash...'

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

NEWS - Cambridge Poetry Tours at the Festival of Ideas

On Saturday, I was one of a team of poets who facilitated the first ever Cambridge Poetry Tour, as part of the Festival of Ideas at the University of Cambridge.

And we had an awesome time!

The tours were devised by local writer Michael Brown, and featured poets Robin Lamboll and Nikki Marrone. (All three of whom are bloody brilliant!)

For each tour, we visited famous landmarks around Cambridge - and snuck into two of the best private libraries in the city - all the while learning all about the history of the colleges and the famous poets who lived and worked in them. We we performed a selection of poems by well-known Cambridge alumni, as well as a few of our own poems, which had been written especially for the event.

The whole thing was such a great idea, and the people of Cambridge were obviously keen because both tours were totally sold out!

Autumn Leaves

On our first tour, we took our little crowd of people across the Sedgwick Site, passed King's and into Trinity College. Inside Trinity, we learned all about Lord Byron's time as a student, including the bizarre company he kept while in Cambridge. (He brought a bear to live with him in his rooms, supposedly because he wasn't allowed to keep a dog. What a cad!)

After hearing reciting some Byron, we took a look around the Wren Library. And I have to tell you, this building is so old and majestic, it made my toes tingle!

Completed in 1695 and designed by Christopher Wren - the same guy who designed St Paul's Cathedral - the Wren Library was so breath-takingly beautiful, and one of the highlights of my day!

As well as being a lovely old building, the Wren Library is also filled with a ridiculously excellent collection of rare books, including a signed copy of Das Capital by Karl Marx, a beautiful hand-written Quran, and one of the first folios of Shakespeare's plays, not to mention Isaac Newton's actual notebooks, alongside his walking stick, a first edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica and even a lock of Mr Newton's own hair! (Weird *and* creepy! Hoorah!)

It's amazing to think that academics and students still use this library as a place to study. Imagine revising for finals in the same library as Byron! And Isaac Newton! And Isaac Newton's disembodied hair! Amazing!

The porters wouldn't let us take pictures in the library, but I did get hold of a postcard, so here's a picture of that postcard.

B&B Bedsheets Bonus!

It really doesn't do it justice.

But seriously, it really is an awesome library, and well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Cambridge. You can find visitor's info here.

After the Wren Library, we took our tour group up to the 'O' bridge (Why is it called that? Answers here.) for a group rendition of Cambridge by William Wordsworth, complete with cyclists rushing past us, while punts glided underneath us. It was all *very* Cambridge!

Then, we headed to Heffers bookshop for a short poetry performance to conclude the tour.

Nikki doing poems at Heffers

I managed to speak to a few of the tour-takers on the way round, chatting to a retired professor, a Chinese Postgraduate and a German lady now living in Cambridge. Everyone I spoke to was really enthusiastic and engaged with the performances, and loads of people came up to us afterwards to say how much they enjoyed the tour - which was really lovely to hear! I also sold six pamphlets, and made enough money to have two sausage rolls for my tea. What more could a poet ask for?

For our second tour, we had a much larger group, and we took them on a different route, from the Mathematical Bridge at Queen's to the Ted Hughes Library at Pembroke College.

I was particularly impressed by the beautiful stained glass windows in Pembroke Library, each one depicting one of Hughes' nature poems.

The Ted Hughes window at Pembroke Library

The bloody hand print is my favourite part. Very in-keeping with Hallowe'en...

We also got the chance to wander the courtyards of Pembroke, which I really enjoyed. I am, by nature, massively nosy, and any chance I get to go somewhere people are normally allowed is like heaven for me!

Plus, I'm ashamed to admit that in all the years I lived and worked in Cambridge, I never once went on a guided tour! Isn't that awful? Hopefully I've rectified that woeful error now!

Again, our tour ended up in Heffers bookshop, where we rounded off the event with another performance of our own poems.

This time around, I got chatting to some Malaysian graduate students, who were really friendly and told me all about their PhD projects. And in fact, everyone I chatted to was really great, interested not only in the history of the Colleges and the famous poems that we performed, but also in our own work too, which was really lovely!

Cambridge, you beautiful bastard!

I was also pleased as punch to hear performances from Nikki, Robin and Michael - with Nikki's poems being especially poignant, given that she's moving away to Europe soon!

Anyway, in case you're interested, here's a list of all the famous poems performed on the tour. Each one has embedded links, so you can check out the whole poems, if you like:

I give to you these verses by Charles BaudelaireI'm Leaving Cambridge Again by Xu Zhimo She Walks in Beauty by Lord ByronCambridge by William Wordsworth Archaeopteryx by Gillian Clarke The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes All the Dead Dears by Sylvia PlathThe Epitaph by Thomas Gray
Thanks again to Michael for organising the event, to the Festival of Ideas for hosting the poetry tours and to Trinity and Pembroke Colleges for letting us in to their secret places. Thanks to Heffers for hosting our performances, and to everyone who came along on the tours - you were all excellent!

Michael reciting a poem

Same time next year?

Monday, 26 October 2015

POEM - Taramasalata

This is probably one of the silliest poems I've ever written. And that's really saying something!

I wrote in for a competition, the theme of which was 'food and drink'. I had no idea what to write about for my submission, so I asked my other half, and he jokingly said 'taramasalata'.

For those of you who don't already know, taramasalata is a weird pink blancmange type substance made of mushed-up fish. It is in no way my favourite food...

That being said, I do like a challenge, and finding nine rhymes for taramasalata certainly *was* a challenge!

I didn't win the competition - and I think that's probably for the best, all things considered. But, if the Taramasalata Advisory Board are reading this, then I am very open to future fish-based commissions. Drop me an email, and we'll talk.


Some folks like a salad
Or soup to eat for starters,
But I just can’t be sated
Without taramasalata.

It’s almost an addiction.
I’ll admit I am a martyr.
But heaven knows what I would do
For taramasalata.

There’s no restrictions on its use
In any social strata.
It makes your breath smell like the sea,
Does taramasalata.

It’s full of fish and vitamins –
I think it makes your smarter.
I’ve gained two PhD degrees
With Taramasalata.

If I could pass a Public Law,
Decree, or Royal Charter,
I’d get them to protect the fish
(For taramasalata).

And when there’s none inside the fridge,
I beg and steal and barter.
It can’t be helped, I’m really stuck
On taramasalata.

I want to buy the world’s supply;
I’ve put it on KickStarter.
(The gift you get for donating
Is taramasalata.)

And, when I’m seeking payment –
Either full-time or pro rata –
I’ll ask them to consider
Giving taramasalata.

If climate change kills all the fish,
It would be a disaster.
There’d be no sea diversity
(Or taramasalata).


Saturday, 17 October 2015

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS - Workshops, Rhymes with Orange and the Fenland Reed

Blimey! It's been a good few weeks since I last posted! Sorry about that, but it's been a busy month.

I know I've said it before - and it's a massively boring and over-used simile - but I really do feel that poetry projects are a lot like buses: you wait for ages and then three come along in quick succession!

Whenever a load of lovely things happen all at once, it always reminds me of a positive version of that Alanis Morissette song 'Ironic'. Although, neither a busy month of poetry, nor the lyrics to that song are actually ironic - which is kind of ironic in itself, when you think about it...

Anyway, it *has* been a busy couple of weeks, and I've been traveling all over the place doing gigs, workshops and other stuff.

On Saturday 10th October, I trundled down the A1 to Sawtry to give a creative writing workshop as part of the Arts Alive in Libraries initiative. The project, funded by Arts Council England, gives rural libraries in Fenland and Breckland the chance to book a number of different creative workshops, in order to engage local communities with the arts in libraries.

The list of available courses is massive; from opera to manga drawing, and everything in between!

I'd already given a couple of workshops at the Sawtry Library, and both had been really well attended, so I was pleased to be invited back to do a few more sessions.

This time around, I had a small group of enthusiastic participants, and I was really impressed by their creative talent, and their willingness to get stuck into all the exercises!

I used the session to take the group through some writing games, including a few new exercises that I hadn't tried before. I was particularly pleased with how the "write a haiku about the person next to you" warm up game was received by the group. It's a great way to introduce participants to one another, and it really fires up their creativity too!

One of the things I like best about doing workshops is the sheer variety of the writing produced. Give a group of six people a writing prompt, and you can guarantee that each person will interpret the inspiration differently, and everyone will write in their own distinct style. It really reinforces my belief that writing is a fundamentally brilliant form of expression - but then, I might be a *little* bit biased.

What I'm trying to say is that I had a fab time facilitating this workshop, and I'm looking forward to my final visit to Sawtry library on Wednesday 4th November!

Last Thursday I braved the commuter train from Nottingham to London to take part in the Rhymes With Orange spoken word night at the Bedroom Bar in Shoreditch.

Waaaaaay back in April, at my last visit to RWO, I'd taken part in the Orange Crush Slam, and won a ten minute slot at a future gig. Unfortunately, the June RWO clashed with Andy and Allie's wedding, and the one after that was in Scotland, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so it's taken me about six months to be able to grab my slot on stage!

I'd like to whinge and say that I wish people would stop getting married, but in reality I love Love and all that junk, and I'm a sucker for a good wedding! (Especially if there's cake and a disco, because I am secretly an eight year old child.)

Anyway, Rhymes With Orange are this awesome collective of poets, writers, comedians and performers, who run events, do workshops, organise retreats and generally champion new writing in London. Many of the performers have drama and comedy backgrounds, and much of their work focuses on the funny, the bizarre and the surreal. As you can imagine, going to their shows always fills me with a deep and powerful sense of belonging.

For Thursday's show, the theme was 'Pop', and most of the regular performers had written new material to fit in with that theme. From a brilliant, yet slightly melancholic look into Harry Style's future, to a truly bizarre and wonderful poem about Jurgen Klopp, via yogurt-stealing children, friendly stalkers, and the creepiest birthday party ever, the performances were fun, funny and engaging.

There was even a poem about copulating hedgehogs!*

The open mic was also really great this time too, including a really thought-provoking poem about racism, as well as a great anti-cheating poem containing the line "you lying cheating bastard", right through to a beautiful, heartfelt piece about the death of a parent.

But my favourite open mic-ee was a chap who did a poem that re-imagined St Paul's letters to the Corinthians, in the style of Eminem's hit song 'Stan'. The whole thing was pitch perfect, thick with puns and brilliant references to both the Bible and old school hip hop. I know it sounds weird, but trust me, it was genius!

I did a couple of 'pop sonnets' during my set, and they seemed to go down pretty well with the crowd. I'm keen to go back to RWO as soon as possible, so fingers crossed that I can make it to their Christmas Extravaganza on Thursday 3rd December!

Also this week, I received my copy of the Fenland Reed. The magazine - created, curated and printed by Ely poets Jonathan Totman and Mary Livingstone - is a celebration of East Anglian landscapes, people and stories, and the first issue has some fantastic pieces of writing in it from a collection of really impressive poets.

I've also got a poem in the first issue, and I'm disgustingly honoured to see my writing in such an awesome publication.

If I've piqued your interest, then check out the Fenland Reed website for more details, subscribe to the magazine, or submit your own poem for Issue two! The theme is Lost & Found.

Next weekend, I'm heading off to Cambridge to take do some poetry tours as part of the University of Cambridge's Festival of Ideas, followed by a workshop and performance with Allographic: Other Voices. I am looking forward to all these shows SO MUCH and I will let you know how I get on in the usual delayed blogpost manner.

Happy Sunday everyone!

*It wasn't really about hedgehogs shagging, but that was the central metaphor, and it was inspired!