Friday, 11 November 2016

POEM - Witness

Today is Armistice Day in UK, which is a time to come together to think about those people who gave their lives in service of their countries in numerous wars across the globe.

It’s so important to remember those who have died in these circumstances, but it’s also vital to understand the horrors of war and the historical context behind conflicts, in order to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

In these divided and divisive times, standing up for our collective human rights and looking after each other is more important than ever.

 This poem is about the penalties for desertion during the First World War. I wrote it as part of the Poems for Peace anthology, which was published back in 2015. The poem is called Witness.  

I have tasted dust and blood
And felt the shrapnel’s sting.
I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

I have dodged the rounds and shells
And heard the bullets sing.
I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

I have felt the fear and shame
Creep beneath my skin.
I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

Some will call it cowardice,
Betraying kith and kin,
But I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

Mortar-worn, I ran from hell
And that’s my only sin.
I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

So fasten feathers to my coat –
I’ll scarcely feel the pin.
For I have moved among the dead,
And witnessed everything.

And I will raise my blindfold
When the firing squad begins,
So when they shoot between my eyes
I’ll witness everything.

And when they write our history,
Please pencil my name in.
Honour me among the dead,
And witness everything.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS – Word Wise, TEDxUCLWomen and Line of Light Launch

This week has been another one filled with travel and wild adventures in places as far flung as Suffolk and London (as well as a few events closer to home in the East Midlands!)

Last Friday, I was delighted to be invited to do a support set at the second ever Word Wise event, at the Maypole in Derby.

It was a bit of an overwhelming booking to be honest, because the headliners are all incredible poets, namely Jess Green, Toby Campion and Miggy Angel, and I was also sharing the support slot role with the very marvellous Dan Webber as well. So it was a pretty big night by all accounts!

The venue was absolutely heaving by the time we arrived, and it was wonderful to see so many people enjoying and participating in spoken word, with a really high standard on the open mic, and some great hosting and organisation from Jamie Thrasivoulou and Michael Markham.

The performances from the headliners were really brilliant: Dan’s rousing call to arms for Derby creatives was perfectly complemented by Miggy’s wonderful protest poem ‘I am the Riot You Seek’, and Toby Campion’s words dissected homophobia, bullying, cancer, family and community in a way that cut straight to the emotion of everything – and even made a few member of the audience cry.

The excellent Toby Campion

Jess Green rounded off the evening with some fantastic stuff from her most recent show, which focuses on the highs and lows of the British education system, and her poem about encouraging children in all aspects of their education (not just STEM subjects) was a real crowd pleaser and generated many a whoop and cheer from us all at the end!

I really enjoyed performing at this event, and it was so inspiring to see so many professional performers on one bill, all completely on top of their game. I absolutely cannot wait for the next Word Wise on 25th November, and you should definitely check out these gigs if your based in the Midlands.

Then, on Saturday I swooped down to London on the train to take part in the annual TEDxUCLWomen event. TEDxUCLWomen is a movement that celebrates the achievements of women at University College London and in the wider community, while examining the barriers that prevent women and girls worldwide from achieving their full potential.

from the TEDxUCLWomen twitter page

This year’s event, INTERSECT, was particularly focused on facilitating discussions and workshops on theme of intersectional feminism and the complicated web of prejudices that can lead to reduced opportunities for women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and other minority groups.

There were loads of talks by amazing people, along with plenty of workshops, food, music, theatre, spoken word performances, a zine fair and artwork from some incredible artists.

I performed as part of the evening’s entertainment, and it was so inspiring to be part of such talented, diverse and positive event. I got to see some fantastic poetry from Maddie Godfrey (whose piece, If My Body Was A Poem is one of my new favourites!) and some great awareness-raising courtesy of Speaking of IMELDA, a group of women campaigning for abortion rights in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

There was also a really affecting theatre piece about FGM called RITES, which was based on verbatim interviews with people from a vast range of different communities and traditions. The subject matter was pretty harrowing - with some gruesome descriptions of the process. I was really impressed by the fact that the piece portrayed all the arguments for and against FGM without patronising the audience, which made for a really textured and challenging piece of theatre.

Unfortunately, I had to leave quite early in order to get my train back to Nottingham, so I didn’t get a chance to check out the DJ who played later on into the night, but I really enjoyed the parts of INTERSECT that I got to see.

Plus, on my adventures on the way to the UCL campus, I managed to have a quick look around an art gallery in a Victorian Crypt, and got a chance to have a brief whizz around the Grant Museum of Zoology, where I made friends with a jar of pickled moles!

A jar of moles!

So, all in all, it was a very productive day!

On Wednesday night, I popped down to Station Street in Nottingham city centre for the launch of the Line of Light art installation.

The artwork was created by artist Jo Fairfax and sees projections of five-word extracts from poems displayed on underside of the tram bridge on Station Street. There are also two sets of parallel lines that run along the body of the bridge, which light up whenever a tram goes overhead.

The whole thing looks absolutely brilliant, and the projected poems change each day, including lines from famous works, specially written poems from other UNESCO Cities of Literature, and over one hundred other pieces written by local residents.

The Line of Light Installation

The art installation was commissioned by Nottingham City Council in partnership with Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature to showcase Nottingham’s literary heritage and bright creative future. With that in mind, I was delighted to be invited to perform at the launch event alongside writer and Byron aficionado Christy Fearn, multi-talented musical duo Putin and the Dolphin, and my fellow DIY Poets member John Humphreys.

I read my poem about Nottingham ‘No Such Thing as a Bacon Roll’ and I was pleased by how it went down with the crowd! I also managed to talk to some really interesting people during the afterparty and – fingers crossed – some interesting projects might arise as a result of all that lovely hobnobbing!

John’s poem ‘We Are All Just Extras’ is due to be featured as part of the Line of Light installation in April, so look out for that too!

Then yesterday I popped down to the Suffolk Coast to take part the Poetry in Aldeburgh festival. One of my poems had been published in a collection called ‘Lookout: Poems From Aldeburgh Beach’ and I was invited to go along to read it.

The South Lookout Gallery at Aldeburgh

I managed to wangle my way into the collection because I worked at the South Lookout Tower on Aldeburgh beach back in 2014 as poet in residence for the Museum of Beyond (you can read all about that here) and I was really excited to be going back to the beach to read some of my stuff from that project.

Check out my 'books on a beach' composition - I'm pretty proud of that!

It was a really brilliant launch event (Complete with smoked herring and crusty bread - yum!) and I'm utterly delighted to be in such a prestigious anthology! There are some enormous names in the collection - I’m particularly excited to be in the same book as Ian MacMillan AND Annie Freud!

Unfortunately, you can't yet buy the book online, but the editors are having a second launch event in London in late November, so keep your eyes peeled for that!