Saturday, 30 January 2016

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS - Cabaret, Sonnets and Workshops in London

It's been another whirlwind week or two here at poetry towers, with lots of trips down to That London, and loads of fun things coming up in February to look forward to as well!

So, on Saturday 23rd January, I popped down to London to take part in Cabaret of Cunts, a feminist performance festival in Limehouse.

The venue, Limehouse Town Hall, is an awesome dilapidated old council building, which is now used as a brilliant, if slightly spooky performance space. It's festooned with fairy-lights and has it's very own bar, plus it's really easier to get to from St Pancras station - what more could you want from a venue?

Limehouse Town Hall

Cabaret of Cunts is a one-off show, put together by the Pussy Patrons, an awesome female theatre troop from Queen Mary's University London.

The night was hosted by Elyssa Livergant AKA Polly Parton, beer-swilling, foul-mouthed and gamourous southern belle, and included brilliant performances from Tight Theatre, Molly & Jess, and Kate James Moore.

Tight Theatre are a group of women from Bristol, and their performance, PUSSY. Part dance, part physical theatre, PUSSY explores female sexuality in a witty and accessible way, while never shying away from the themes of shame and sexualisation. It's a fantastic piece, and I can't wait to see what they do next!

Tight Theatre performing PUSSY

Then we were treated to some feminist folk music, courtesy of Molly and Jess, whose beautiful harmonies and kick-ass lyrics left me feeling like I needed to pick up a banjo and get involved! There was also an intermission show from puppeteer Kate James Moore (Commedia Puppets) and her reworking of the story of Hamlet was a delight to behold. 

There were also short talks about Sisters Uncut, a group of activists who protest about austerity and its negative effect on women, people of colour and the trans community, as well as information on abortion rights in Ireland and Northern Ireland (Speaking for IMELDA).

After the interval it was time for the main event and the Pussy Patrons did not disappoint! The show was messy and raw and moving and hilarious, and the crowd loved every second of it. I won't spoil the show for you, but suffice to say that these ladies packed a helluva lot of thought-provoking information into their half hour show, as well as some ingenious uses for jam!

Photo by Liv Leopard

In fact, I had a fantastic time performing with all these inspiring and talented women, and you should definitely seek them all out wherever you can! And check out this awesome review of the night, courtesy of the very excellent Hattie Long.

After all that excitement (and getting a little bit lost on the tube on the way home) I was back in London the following week to do some poetry workshops with the year sevens at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in Shepherd's Bush.

A friend of mine is a geography teacher there (elbow patches and all) and he somehow persuaded the librarian that I was the right person to teach eleven-year-old boys how to write poetry.

The ominous blank page

That being said, it was actually really good fun, doing poems with around a hundred boys over the course of the day. We looked at similes, metaphors and sense poems, and even though they all looked thoroughly confused when I asked them to describe their bedrooms 'using only smell and sound', they actually came up with some really great writing!

It was an incredibly long day, and though it was amazing fun, I now have a new-found respect for teachers, who do this kind of thing all day every day. I tip my hat to you, ladies and gentlemen!

This week, I'm excited because I'm going to the Whitworth Gallery at the University of Manchester to take part in Thursday Lates with the Quiet Compère, and a bunch of other brilliant northern poets! You'll get to see the likes of Kate Bendelow, Ken Evans, Kate Garrett-Nield, Simon Haworth, Hannah Mackay, Melanie Rees, copland smith, Anna Tuck, Reece Williams and Sarah L Dixon. And best of all: the whole thing is free!

We'll be performing from around 6:30pm to 9pm on Thursday 4th February, and it's going to be a really fun show! Check out the Thursday Lates website for more information.

28 Sonnets Later: Zombie Shakespeare

Finally this week, I'm looking forward to starting another round of 28 Sonnets Later, the sonnet-writing project where myself, Andy Bennett, Adam Warne and Russell J Turner write twenty-eight sonnets over the course of twenty-eight days in February. Only this year is a leap year, so we'll be writing twenty-nine.

It's our fifth anniversary at 28 Sonnets Later, and we're celebrating by filling February 2016 with some mega-awesome ekphrastic poems! After much thinking and list-making, we've chosen our favourite artworks and we're going to pick one at random each day to write about. So check out the website from Monday onwards for a sonnet-a-day, and check our twitter page for loads more sonnet-y goodness!

Monday, 18 January 2016

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Write Minds and House of Verse

This week, I was really pleased to hear that one of my poems is going to published in an anthology called 'Madder Than We Look' as part of the Write Minds project.

Write Minds is a Nottingham based organisation that works with people who have experience of self-harm, depression, and suicide, helping them to express themselves through creative writing projects and the arts. They do incredible work, and you should definitely check them out!

The anthology is due out in the next few months, so keep an eye out for it!

I also managed to get myself invited to a really posh event at the Bishop of Ely's gaff on Friday night, for one of their 'Music and Poetry' evenings. It was a really lovely evening, with loads of great local poets and musicians in attendance, and a special guest performance from Rowan Williams, the former arch bishop of Canterbury.

Although I'm not a particularly religious person, I've always really enjoyed Dr Williams' poetry, which is beautifully intricate yet wonderfully understated. Of course, my main plan was to ask the former arch bishop about his top ten favourite cathedrals - obviously!

This one's my favourite - but I'm biased!

But in the end, I didn't get a chance to chat with our guest speaker. Majorly gutted!

However, he did give me a friendly eyebrow wiggle from across the room, so I think we're probably best friends now.

Finally this week, I went along to The Music Café to take part in House of Verse, a massive monthly showcase of comedy, music and spoken word. 

House of Verse, looking awesome!

Hosted by the very marvellous Hibword, and filled with amazing performances, House of Verse was a cracking night out! 

I know that lots of events are always billed as having 'something for everyone' but in this case, it's completely true! Everyone who performed was excellent; I particularly enjoyed the lyrical talents of Munroop Panesar, and the instrumental guitar amazingness of Jim Ghedi really stood out. 

I also loved Poetman's spoken word loop-pedal wizardry, and Mr Shay's effortless confidence on stage was really impressive to watch. Dave McGuckin was hilarious, and Dan Webber's poem about his penis had the crowd in stitches!     

Even if you weren't there on Saturday, you can still catch my performance on my tentative new Youtube channel! I'm hoping to put a couple of things up on there over the next month or so, with a view to using it as a kind of online CV for festival applications. 

Keep your fingers crossed for me, and maybe you'll see me in a field near you some time soon!   
Bestival '14

Sunday, 10 January 2016

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Leicester, London, Manchester

House of Verse, Leicester

Goodness me! It's turning out to be a busy January already! This month I'm doing poems in Leicester, London, Nottingham, *and* Manchester, as well as doing workshops in schools and organising some events for later in the year. It's all go!

So, if you're interested in where I'm gigging for the next thirty days, here's a list:

Sat 16th Jan - I'll be down in Leicester at House of Verse, an amazing multidisciplinary performance night - with music, comedy, poetry, and everything in between - hosted by awesome poet and compère Hibword. The show starts at 7pm and you can find all the details here.

Sat 23rd Jan - I'm heading down to East London to take part in Cabaret of Cunts, a fantastic feminist festival put together by all-female cabaret group Pussy Patrons. There'll be music, art, theatre, poetry, comedy, and a bunch of DJs, and it's going to be really cool. Everyone's welcome, so check out the event page for more information.

Thurs 28th Jan - I'll be doing poetry for two hundred eleven-year-old boys as part of a days of poetry workshops at a school in London. I've already written a poem about dinosaurs, so I'm pretty much sorted with the preparation, and I'm really looking forward to it!

Sun 31st Jan - I'm going along to support the DIY Poets with their Lace and Steel event, showcasing poetry from poets in Nottingham and in Sheffield. Unusually, this is an afternoon gig (3pm - 6pm) so they'll be plenty of time afterwards to chat and drink with all the poets. And there's rumours that there might even be a band playing in the evening! Sound lush, right? More info about the event can be found here.

Thurs 4th Feb - I'm off to Manchester to take part in the Thursday Lates series at the Whitworth Gallery. The evening will feature ten poets from across the north of England, and is hosted by the marvellous Sarah Dixon aka The Quiet Compère. The whole night is free, so you should definitely come along if you're free! Details here.

And, if all that wasn't enough - February sees the return of 28 Sonnets Later, our sonnet-a-day writing project, which is now in its fifth year! This time, Andy Bennett, Russell J Turner, Adam Warne, and I will be writing sonnets about works of art. They'll be poems on famous paintings, sculptures, architecture, and artefacts, as well as poems based on obscure or unfamiliar stuff too. I'm really looking forward to it this year, so keep your eyes peeled for the first sonnet, coming on 1st Feb!

Finally, I need to remind you all that the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition is still open! So, if you live, work or study in the Fens, you can enter a poem, and be in with a chance to be crowned Fenland Poet Laureate for 2016! How cool would that be?

In order to enter the competition, you'll need to check out the rules on the Atelier East website. The deadline is 29th January. Good luck!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

POEM - If I Were A Dinosaur

So, later this month, I'm doing a load of workshops in schools, working with a large group of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. Given that some of my stuff is in no way suitable for that age group (at least, if I want to booked by the same school again in the future) I've had to write some more child-friendly poems. This is the first one. I hope you like it!

If I were a dinosaur
I'd sort the whole world out –
I'd get a bigger bedroom first
Of that there is no doubt.

Coz if I were a dinosaur
I'd get my due respect.
I'd get the best seats on the bus
And things would be perfect.

See, if I were a dinosaur
I'd make the bullies pay.
I'd roar at them with stinky breath
And then they'd run away.

And If I were a dinosaur
I'd eat the neighbour's dog.
And that would stop it barking
While I'm sleeping like a log.

And if I were a dinosaur
I'd never do homework –
I'd eat the history teacher
And then smirk a dino smirk.

And if I were a dinosaur
I'd have enormous claws.
I could get my heart's desire
While gnashing giant jaws.

And if I were a dinosaur
I'd never have to queue.
I'd be the first in line at shops
And at the football too.

See, if I were a dinosaur
I'd always get my way.
People would be scared of me
And do just what I say.

But if I were a dinosaur
My arms would be quite small
I couldn't play my xbox
Or shoot hoops in basketball.

And if I were a dinosaur
I'd scare away my friends
And then I'd be all by myself
On evenings and weekends.

And if I were a dinosaur
I couldn't sleep inside
My house would be too small for me
I'd have to sleep outside.

And if I were a dinosaur
I couldn't even talk
And with my tiny arms
I couldn't write it down with chalk.

And if I were a dinosaur
I couldn't ride the bus
My body wouldn't fit inside
And folks would make a fuss.

And if I were a dinosaur
I couldn't go to school –
They'd put me in a zoo instead
And that would not be cool.

And if I were a dinosaur
I wouldn't get my way
Instead people would scream and shout
And then they'd run away.

Turns out, to be a dinosaur
Isn't what it's cracked up to be.
Maybe I'll just be myself
It's okay being me.

'Rawr!' means 'I love you' in dinosaur

Friday, 1 January 2016

FRIDAY NIGHT NEWS – New Year’s Resolutions

Last year, I decided to set myself a few poetry New Year’s Resolutions for 2015. I came up with five resolutions in the end, and they were all pretty vague and woolly.

According to the agony aunt in Cosmopolitan, you should always set clear and defined goals, or else there’s no way you can ever hope to stick to them. To be honest, I kind of agree with this sentiment, but I reckon that vague resolutions are perfect for lazy people (like me). That way, it’s easier to weasel you way out of them at a later date. Sneaky, eh?

Don’t worry though, the only person I’m really cheating is myself.

Anyway, I had five new year’s resolutions for 2015:
1. Go to more poetry nights
2. Write more regularly
3. Do more workshops
4. See more spoken word/ live literature shows
5. Go to the Edinburgh Fringe

So how did I get on? Well, during 2015, I did forty-five different poetry gigs, twenty-nine of which were nights or events that were completely new to me. (That’s a 64% new gig rate, fact fans!)

I have no idea how favourably this compares to last year, but it sounds impressive, and if you can use statistics to prove anything (which you can) I think we can say that this first resolution has been well and truly achieved. Hoorah! Well done everyone.

And, I reckon I managed to write more regularly this year as well. I've counted them up and it turns out that I've written over fifty new poems in 2015. That sounds much more impressive than it is, because a lot of those fifty are a bit crap and will probably never see the light of day. But it's all good practise, and I've managed to write a couple this year that I'm really proud of, so I'm still calling it a win.

So we’re two for two. Awesome.

This year I also managed to do take on some more poetry workshops, including the Allographic Constrained Writing workshop in October, or the Arts Alive in Libraries workshops throughout the summer and autumn. This is something I really want to do more of in 2016, so perhaps this resolution will make another appearance on this year’s list.

But no one every manages to achieve all their resolution, right?

In fact, during the course of the year, I only managed to see one full-length spoken word show (the Mouthy Poets UK Tour, in Cambridge back in March, which was excellent). I also failed to get up to Edinburgh for the Fringe for the third year in a row. (Booooooo!)

I really don't want to be one of those people who only goes to shows because they're performing a slot, and in the past I've been to quite a lot of gigs and shows, but this year that seems to have fallen by the wayside. And I actually really enjoy watching other performers - and it's much less stressful going to a show as an audience member - so I'm definitely going to make more time to go see theatre and poetry shows in the new year. 

Yeah, so that's a 60% success rate for resolutions for 2015, which isn’t too bad really. (I won't tell you about my personal resolutions, which had all gone catastrophically wrong by the second of January, as usual!)

So I've been thinking about them for a while, and I've finally settled on four resolutions for 2016:

1. See at least six full-length spoken word shows
2. Do at least ten workshops
3. Go to at least thirty new (to me) poetry nights
5. Go to the Edinburgh Fringe!!!!

I'm booking my train tickets to Scotland as we speak! Wish me luck!