Monday, 27 June 2016

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS – Ouse Muse, DIY Poets and Words for Walls Workshop

So, the gig in Bedford was a strange one for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was brilliant to meet such a nice (And talented!) group of people in a new place, and the venue had a really warm atmosphere, thanks in part down to the consummate professionalism of our host, Ian McEwen.

Plus, it was absolutely marvellous to see Jonathan Totman and Mary Livingstone performing, and hear about all the wonderful things they’re doing for Poetry in the Fens.

But, if I’m honest, I was a bit disappointed in my own performance.

Listen, I’m not a big fan of the ‘torture yourself after a gig if the slightest thing went wrong’ school of performance. But on this occasion, I feel like a bit of self-reflection is in order.

Hashtag Poetry Navel-Gazing  (Photo by Greg Tavares)

See, what happened was this: I’d been planning to do a few new poems but I bottled it at the last minute, and switched out my set for the Tried and Tested material (that I’ve read a thousand times before). And that was fine, and people seemed to enjoy it, but a little part of me felt as though I’d let myself down. The whole point of spoken word for me is the process of creating something new and testing it out on an audience, to refine it and improve it.

So what is it that I’m so scared of?

I dunno. Failure, mostly.

But creativity and experimentation are ALL ABOUT making mistakes, aren’t they? You can’t expect to get better at poetry without breaking a few eggs. (That’s how that idiom goes, right?)

So, maybe it’s time for me to pledge to be a little braver; to jump-start my creativity by trying things I’ve never done before, and add new, untested poems into my set lists from now on. Maybe I’ll find a few hidden gems, and maybe I won’t. Maybe it will spur me on to create some great magnum opus, and maybe it won’t.

But, it’ll be interesting to see what happens, right?

Either way, it looks like I’m going to have to make myself an omelette, and get a bit messy. Because there are eggs that need breaking and I am the woman to do it!

(The eggs are the creativity, but I’m not quite sure what the omelette represents…)

Anyway, this week I’m going to put my promises into practice at the DIY Poets gig on Thursday 30th June at Rough Trade!

There’ll be poetry from the ‘Over Land Over Sea' anthology of poems for refugees, and music from Stacey McMullen, as well as loads of great performances from the DIY Poets, and some new stuff from me. The show starts at 7:30pm and it’s just £3 to get in. What a bargain! You can check out the facebook event here.

Then, on Monday 4th July, I’ll be facilitating a poetry workshop in Nottingham for the Words For Walls project, which is a really cool poetry competition and exhibition, organised by the University of Nottingham.

The project aims to celebrate the Nottingham by bringing poems by local people into public spaces across the city. So, if you have a connection to Nottingham, you can submit a poem, and selected pieces will be displayed in the Autumn, in cinemas, galleries, bus stations and the like.

My workshop is happening at the Broadway cinema from 2pm to 4pm. It’s open to budding poets of all ages. (The website says 16-21 year olds, but this has now been changed to include older people too!) It’s free to attend and we’re going to be doing loads of fun exercises and games to get your creative juices flowing so that, by the end of the session, you’ll have lots of ideas for things to submit to the project.

You can read all the details about the project and register for my workshop on the website, where you can also find out how to submit your own poems to the competition!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Projects, Projects, Projects

So, I think I’ve finally calmed down from all the festival-tinged excitement from last weekend and I’m almost (almost) back to normal.

Festival Poetry Audience!

“Does that mean you’re chilling out and taking a well-earned break, Leanne?”

No. No it does not. But thank you for your concern, imaginary blog-reader!

Nah, I like being busy, and things are *busy* here at Poetry Towers this month, so that’s good! In fact, I’ve got a few projects on the go at the moment that I’d like to tell you about:

1. I’m currently working on a poetry trail project with the Museum of Cambridge, writing a load of poems/riddles about the objects in the Museum’s permanent collection, which will then be hung in the museum during the summer holidays, forming a bit of a poetic treasure hunt for people visiting the collection.

I’ll also be doing a ‘drop-in’ poetry workshop on Wednesday 17th August at the museum, with loads of fun creative exercises for all ages and abilities. If you’re free and in the area, you should definitely come and say hello!

I actually blogged about some of the weird and wonderful stuff that I’ll be writing about here but there are so many brilliant artefacts in the museum, that it’s been really difficult to choose just a few to write about!

For example, I’ll definitely be writing something about this – it's a turtle shell donated by Clare College Cambridge. The shell was painted to commemorate a posh dinner that they had at the college in 1903. And I'm sure you can all guess what happened to the rest of the turtle...

Yep. They ate it.

2. I'm also putting together a poetry workshop in Nottingham for the Words For Walls project, which is an awesome public poetry competition / exhibition, organised by the University of Nottingham.

The project aims to celebrate the Nottingham's written creativity by bringing poems by local people into public spaces across the city.

Anyone with a strong connection to Nottingham can submit a poem, selected chosen pieces will then be displayed at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham Contemporary art gallery, Broadmarsh bus station, in libraries and buses across the city in the Autumn.

My workshop is for young people aged 16 - 21, and will be happening at Broadway on Monday 4th July. The workshop is free to attend, and by the end of the session, you should have some ideas for poems, which you can then submit to the project.

You can read all the details about this project on the website, where you can also find out how to submit your own poems for Words For Walls. Good luck!


3. I’m also working with the folks at the Bonington Gallery to put together some recordings of my poems for the Bonington Atrium Listening Booth.

The Listening Booth is an amazing little gallery within a gallery; an enclosed, one person listening space playing looped ambient soundscapes, audio performance art and creative recordings from across the UK.

They’ve never had poetry in the Listening Booth before, so it’s a great opportunity to get a bit of spoken word into a gallery setting!

I’ve already had a brilliant first meeting with Rob, the excellent sound technician behind the Listening Booth, and I’m really excited to hear how it all turns out! I'll keep you posted!

This is not my ear

Next week:
On Wednesday 22nd June I'll be popping down to Bedfordshire for a featured slot at Ouse Muse, Bedford's premier spoken word night, at the Auction Rooms on Duke Street.

In fact, this gig will be a bit of a reunion one for me because I'll be performing alongside three brilliant Fenland poets, including former Fenland Poet Laureates Jonathan Totman and Poppy Kleiser, and the current Fen Laureate Mary Livingstone.

It's going to be a real Fen Takeover, and I'm really looking forward to it!

Tickets are £5 on the door, and the show starts at 7:45pm. If you're in the area, you should definitely come down!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

TUESDAY NIGHT NEWS - Southwell Festival

I know that I'm prone to the odd superlative on this blog (Give or take about a  million!) but I really genuinely mean it when I say that I've just had one of the best weekends of my year so far!

In fact, I'm still beaming inanely even now, after a full two days back in the office - which is almost unheard of for me!

So, what on earth was I getting up to last weekend that was so bloody brilliant? In a word: Festival. In a longer series of words: I was hosting and organising the spoken word at the Gate to Southwell Festival. And it was so much fun!

We are part of  'And Many More' I think

It was actually my first time organising a group of performers at a festival, and the very lovely people at Gate to Southwell had given me two slots in which to do some spoken word. So I gathered up some excellent local poets, and we headed off to the Nottinghamshire countryside!

It was also the first time that there had been more than one poet on the bill at this particular festival, and the organisers were unsure if the punters would be willing to put up with poetry on a larger scale.

In short, it was all a bit of an unknown quantity. But nowt ventured nowt gained - as they say up in the Midlands - so we all pulled together and gave it our best shot!

Our first performance was on Saturday afternoon, in one of the small tents at the back of the site. I was a little bit worried that the audience wouldn't be able to spot us tucked away at the back there without any signposting, so as the time for us to start approached, I warned the poets that we may end up performing to a very very intimate crowd.

i.e. No one

The other problem was the rain. It wasn't just spitting either - it was more like a mini maelstrom. You know, the kind of weather that only ever happens when you have outdoor plans in June. Classic British Summer time stuff.

Glorious Mud (and pretty glorious trousers too, if I do say so myself!)

But, five minutes before we stepped on stage, the clouds parted and the sun came out! And once the sun was out, the crowds came in the their droves, and we ended up with a pretty full tent! We had to go out and get more chairs, for goodness sake!

We had ten poets on stage during the showcase, with performances from Andy Szpuk, Richard C Bower, Lytisha Tunbridge, Martin Dean, Shaun Moore, Di Slaney, Kevin Jackson, Hazel Warren and Trevor Wright (Plus a cheeky couple of poems from yours truly!) and everyone was absolutely brilliant!

We also managed to keep to time and sell a couple of pamphlets after the gig too! What self-respecting poet could ask for more?!

A 'stanza' of poets (is that the right collective noun?)

By the time we'd finished, the skies were bright and clear, and the poets all got a chance to chill out, see some bands and do a bit of socialising.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, we moved the show into the (much bigger and more intimidating) alternative stage for the first ever Southwell Slam!

I hosted the proceedings, which saw poets and members of the public performing their stuff, competing for the title of Bard of Southwell 2016!  We picked three judges from the (impressively sizeable) crowd, and they delivered their verdict after the end of each short performance.

The competition, as I'm sure you can imagine, was pretty intense, but in the end a worthy champion was chosen. Congratulations to Hazel Monaghan, the Bard of Southwell 2016!

And thanks to everyone who performed during the slam - it was a really close-run thing, with only a point between our first and second place performers! Thank you as well to everyone who came along to see us perform - you really made our day!

Our lovely big crowd for the Southwell Slam!

And it wasn't all hard work and poetry: I also got the chance to catch the Moulettes - who were incredible by the way - and sit at the back of a Hurdy Gurdy workshop too! And there's not many times in my life you'll ever hear me say that!

Hurdy Gurdys

I've already got some ideas for next year's festival; fingers crossed that they'll have us back!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS - Restless Pens, Cave Poems and the Southwell Festival

So this week I have mostly been working on mah projects: writing a couple of poems for the Museum of Cambridge poetry trail, and organising stuff ready for the Gate to Southwell festival. (More on that later!)

I also spent my Bank Holiday Monday at a workshop called Restless Pens and Foreign Tongues, which was hosted by the Nonsuch Theatre and run by Chris and Melanie from the Mouthy Poets.

The workshop itself was really good, with some great prompts and exercises to help us participants to think about language and new beginnings. I particularly liked the exercise that encouraged us to swap some of the words in our writing for foreign translations, and I even wrote a couple of things that I quite liked, so you might see them on the blog in the coming weeks!

Chris McLoughlin performing (with Lowenmaul on the screen via Skype)

But the highlight for me was the performance after the workshop, which featured poetry from Lowenmaul, a German poetry collective based in Braunschweig, as well as poems from the workshop participants and some of the Mouthy Poets too. It was incredible to hear spoken word in a variety of languages – including a Spanish performance and a poem in Afrikaans, as well as lots of English and German pieces too!

Although I couldn’t understand the words in these poems, I was really struck by the rhythms and the performances, and it was really great to hear so many voices from across the world all coming together in one space.

I also felt a bit embarrassed because the only languages I speak are English and Bad English, yet here were all these poets doing amazing things with words in all sorts of awesome languages.

In short, it really made me want to try to learn another language.

Unrelated: the loos at the theatre were very pretty

Upcoming gigs:
This coming week is a busy one for me, because we have the Crosswords open mic night on Wednesday, followed by the Gate Southwell Festival on Saturday and Sunday. It's all a bit 'seat of your pants' but I reckon it'll come good in the end!

Our special guest at Crosswords on Weds 8th June is Michelle Mother Hubbard, a fantastic poet, storyteller and African drummer, and one of the founders of the Black Drop poetry nights in Nottingham. I've been a fan of Michelle's work ever since I saw her at my first ever Poetry is Dead Good back in November last year, and I'm really excited to see an extended set from her at Crosswords!

Last month's Crosswords with Shruti Chauhan

As usual, the show will take place in the sandstone caves underneath the Malt Cross pub on St James' Street, and there'll be plenty of open mic slots available for anyone who wants to join in! Doors open from 7:30pm and we kick things off around 8pm. Entry is £2 per person, and we have a mini bar down in the caves, so all your beverage-based whims. Should be a good night, I reckon! Check out the facebook page for all the details!

Then, on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th June, I'm taking a group of poets to the Gate to Southwell festival, for various spoken word shenanigans. On Saturday, we'll be hosting a showcase from 1pm in Smiffy's Tent, with performances from a host of fantastic performers, including a shed-load of DIY Poets, plus a very special guest all the way from Scotland!

On Sunday we'll be taking over the Alternative Stage from 4pm for the Southwell Slam! It's the festival's first ever spoken word competition, where anyone can get up and perform for three minutes, with the chance of winning the title of Bard of Southwell 2016! An incredible prize, I think you'll agree. And our audience will be in full control, choosing their favourite poems and stories using a very scientific measuring system (numbers on bits of card). The slam is open to all festival-goers, so if you have a valid ticket for Sunday, and fancy trying your luck in the slam, please do drop me a line to let me know. Email us at to register your interest!