Friday, 23 June 2017

FRIDAY NIGHT NEWS - Festivals, Workshops and Not Getting My Dream Job

Jeez – it's been a long time since I last did a proper post, hasn't it? Since we last spoke back in May, I've performed at three festivals, facilitated two creative writing workshops, hosted an open mic night, gained an apprentice, and I almost landed my dream job – but didn't...

I also did a bit of voting in the General Election (My team didn't win – boo!) wrote a ten minute play for an immersive audio project, had a go in a sensory deprivation tank, and rode a segway (although not all at the same time).

Sensory Deprivation ftw!

So it's been a pretty eventful month here at poetry towers, all things considered.

Performing at Badbury Rings Rewind Festival on the second May Bank Holiday weekend was absolutely glorious, and I have to say a massive thanks to Myriam San Marco for inviting me down to Devon to get involved.

It was a really cool, chilled out festival, and it was really lovely to be part of such a friendly and welcoming group of poets too! Special thanks to Danielle for being kind enough to hang out with me for the afternoon and wise enough to know that, even when it's cloudy, you can still get sunburned!

Check me out in all my burnt face glory!

I was surprised and delighted to win the festival slam on the Saturday night, and I can't wait to get down to Bournemouth in September to play a full set at the regular the Wordmakers and Silence-Breakers collective poetry night! Plus, I can now say that I've performed poems on an iron age hill fort – and how many people can say that?!

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On 10th and 11th June, I gathered up a gaggle of DIY Poets and we headed down to the Gate to Southwell Festival for poetry, spoken word and a bit of storytelling at this folk and roots music event.

It was our second visit to the festival, and I think we did a pretty good job this time around. The festival slam was particularly good – even if I do say so myself – with a sizeable audience in the tent and a great mix of performers and festival-goers vying for the ultimate prize: the title of Bard of Southwell 2017.

In the end we had two winners, Hazel Warren and Shaun Moore, who each scored 28 points out of 30, and will have to negotiate some kind of job-sharing arrangement in order to fulfil their esteemed ceremonial duties. (Luckily for them – especially Shaun, who lives in Glasgow – the crown and its associated burden of duties are entirely imaginary at this point!)

Thanks to all the poets who came along and participated in the slam and the showcase – you really did a fabulous job!

Some of our lovely DIY Poets at Gate to Southwell Festival

Then, on Wednesday 14th June, I popped down to the caves for another excellent subterranean spoken word spectacular at Crosswords Open Mic.

Our plucky poetry patrons gathered underneath St James' Street for an incredible featured set from the wonderful Geneviève L. Walsh. Geneviève's set was funny, poignant and well-observed, brimming with cheeky asides and affectionate digs at her home town of Halifax.

We also had some really powerful performances on the open mic, with a couple of poets sharing some really intense experiences and feelings with us through their work. It was a really honour to hear these poems, as well as the more light-hearted stuff, and I'm really glad that people feel safe enough to share stuff with us!

Crosswords will be back in the caves on Wednesday 12th July when our featured artist will be the fantastic Neal Pike. Check out our facebook events page, or our brand new Twitter page for more details!

The marvellous Neal Pike

(We've also gained an apprentice at Crosswords in the form of the very lovely and talented Jake Wildeman. So that's exciting. And it'll mean I have someone to help me set up the chairs of an evening too! Hoorah!)

Then last week, I hot-footed it down to Cambridge to take part in the second annual In Other Words Festival – a fringe-like weekend of poetry and performance curated by the lovely folk at Allographic. I gave a poetry workshop on funny writing, in which some very ridiculous and creative writing was accomplished, and and AND I also did a lovely poetry performance with my good friend and former Fenland partner in poetic crime Elaine Ewart!

Elaine! (Photo by JS Watts)

Elaine is a brilliant writer, and it was wonderful to hear her perform some new stuff, as well as some of my all-time favourites. (I'm looking at you, 'Llamas'!)

I also got the chance to catch shows from Hannah Chutzpah and JS Watts, so that was really lovely as well! I only wish I'd been able to stay longer and check out even more of the fantastic programme but unfortunately I'd eaten something dodgy at some point in the day, and my guts were no longer my friends. Hooray for sensitive stomachs!

But seriously, massive well done to Fay, Nikki, Emma, JS, Mark, Ups, Owain and the rest of the team for their incredible organisation of the In Other Words Festival, curating shows and wrangling poets and audiences across three days and a load of different venues – you lot are bloody inspiring!

Finally, this week I got the chance to hang out with an amazing group of young refugees and asylum-seekers as part of the Writing East Midlands Write Here: Sanctuary Project phase 2.

Working alongside excellent poet and educator Andrew 'Mulletproof' Graves, I helped to facilitate a poetry workshop at a youth centre in Nottingham that primarily caters to teenagers who have come from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

Andrew Graves (aka the Mulletproof poet)

It was a really brilliant session, and I was overwhelmed by the boundless enthusiasm of all the young people we worked with. Despite a few difficulties with language (us not them) we wrote some really strong group poems, and I also learnt a lot about Eritrean foods, the colours of emotions, and also the Urdu word for happy, which is 'Khushhali'.

I also really loved the fact that all the kids were so clued up on Nottingham dialect. In fact one of them explained to us that, in Nottingham, you don't say 'hello', you say 'ey up'.

I tell you what, he's not wrong!

It was a genuinely lovely workshop, and I can't wait to head back and work with this group again soon!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

TUESDAY NIGHT NEWS - Interpretations, Other Languages and Representing Nottingham


Hello lovely people! Just a very quick one today, to let you in on an exciting piece of news that I’ve just received. ***excited face***

The excellent folks at Nottingham City of Literature have been sharing the video we made together, featuring my poem, No Such Thing as a Bacon Roll. Their friends at Ljubljana City of Literature in Slovenia saw it and liked it, and are going to translate the poem into Slovenian for an article they’re running on their website!

This is Slovenia - innit gorgeous? (Picture by Michael Gabler)

I think this is the first time my poetry has been translated into another language – that I know of anyway – and certainly the first time it’s ever been translated into Slovenian!

I absolutely cannot wait to be able to share it with you!

On a related note, the lovely Matt Turpin from Nottingham City of Literature has been testing out the automatic subtitle feature on youtube, using my poem, and it seems that the subtitling algorithm has a very different interpretation of what Nottingham is all about…

I don’t know whether this speaks to my terrible accent, or the fact that machine-learning is not as advanced as youtube would like to think, but either way, the new version of the poem makes for interesting reading:

No such thing as a camera you guys
Choose a cop
Huber Canal, she’s slender
Market Forrestfield
Be fair the market
Where stone lion
And nothing in life
Choose walking through the arboretum on a warm summer’s evening
Or vomit rear and hook
On the back of the base fee
Morning vintage stuff
Even broken cocktail
Or try in vain pepper theorem
To the castle that isn’t even a council
Recorder
Recorder more
Recorder more hours
Choose the rebels and the underdogs
Choose DH Lawrence Brian Clough
At law Byron!
Nailed win
And Super Life Heidi –hi!
Alan Sillitoe and Torvill and Dean
Shoes, Paul Smith
Choose some of the best inventions of the 20th century
Ibuprofen
An fMri machine
HP thought and supermarket sweep
Choose trem fridge and Meadow lane
Choose the most appoint arena and the City Ground
You will be stumbling out of the ocean at 4am
With no idea where your sugar bright
Green chance pics are Robin Hood
Absolutely everywhere
Which is friendly conversation with
Strangers on buses
She’s taken a mick and not get the marble
Choose I
Choose the pump

***

There’s something bizarrely beautiful about it, don’t you think? My favourite bit is definitely “Morning vintage stuff / Even broken cocktail / Or try in vain pepper theorem”.

Why not check out the original video here, and see if you can read along?

Monday, 15 May 2017

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS - Crosswords Open Mic and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival


Oh my good gravy! I've only gone and done it!

After about five years of saying I was going to – and then not having enough annual leave to make it happen – this year I've actually managed to book myself some tickets for the Fringe!

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Watch out Edinburgh! I'm coming for you!

I'll be up in the hilly Scottish capital from 15th to 20th August, and I absolutely *can't* wait to get up there and check it out!

I'll be performing at She Grrrowls on Friday 18th August and at the Say Owt Slam on Sunday 20th August, with more dates to be announced – if and when I manage to wangle them!

I've never been to the Fringe before, so I'm really looking forward to hanging out at the Banshee Labyrinth, and seeing as many poetry shows as possible. I'm hoping to get some inspiration from watching other performers, with a view to bringing my own show up to the Fringe in a couple of year's time.(Yeah, I'll believe that when I see, Moden!)

I'm also hoping to climb Arthur's Seat and maybe even see the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo.(This is vaguely more plausible that the writing my own show guff...)

If you've got any recommendations for shows I should see at this year's Fringe, please do let me know. I'm hoping to make the most of of my very short stay! 

Also this week, we had another subterranean spoken word spectacular in the form of Crosswords Open Mic.

Some words in lieu of a proper logo

Our lovely creative congregation gathered in the caves under the Malt Cross for some fabulous open mic, and an absolutely brilliant featured set from Mr Rob Gee. Rob made us laugh, gasp and squirm in equal measure with his excellent and engaging performance. By turns hilarious, supremely cheeky and surprisingly poignant, Rob's set was really well received by our lovely audience.

Good face-pulling Rob - but not quite as good as me

We also had some wonderful performances on the open mic, with an impressive mix of content, styles and experiences being shared on stage. There were lots of pieces touching on mental health issues, which was very fitting given that it was National Mental Health Awareness week, and it was great to see that performers felt comfortable sharing their poems with us.

It was also had a truly international open mic this month, with performers from places as far flung as India, Mexico (via Leicester), Eastern Europe, and even that London! It was great to see such variety and such a high standard of performance too!

Crosswords will be back in the caves on Wednesday 14th June with a massive featured set courtesy of Yorkshire-based poet Geneviève L. Walsh.

Slightly blurry, but I think it adds to the ambiance

Geneviève has an incredible talent for funny, well-observed poetry, and I can't wait to welcome her to Nottingham as part of her tour to promote her first collection, The Dance of a Thousand Losers. Check out our facebook page for full details!

Next week I'm heading down to Dorset for my first field-based festival of the Summer. I'm off to Badbury Rings Rewind, a small music and arts festival on the site of an Iron Age Hill fort right in the middle the rolling Dorset countryside. How awesome does that sound?!

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Sunday, 30 April 2017

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Videos, More Videos, and the Nottingham Poetry Festival


Well, hello there. How's it going? I can't believe it's almost May already! The summer festival season is very nearly upon us, which is pretty exciting, isn't it? I can't wait get my wellies out!

Not a euphemism

I'm doing a quite a few festivals this year, including WOMAD, In Other Words (Cambridge), Badbury Rings Rewind (Dorset), Gate to Southwell (Nottinghamshire), and the Edinburgh Fringe! So, this week, as a bit of a warm up, I've been participating in the Second annual Nottingham Poetry Festival - which has been bloody brilliant!

As part of the festival, I've been working with the lovely folk at Nottingham City of Literature, who were kind enough to film one of my poems for me. The poem's called 'No Such Thing as a Bacon Roll', and it's a list poem about all the fabulous things that I love about Nottingham.

Matt Turpin at Nottingham City of Literature worked really hard to put the video together, and loads of local people also got involved to recite some of the lines in the piece too. I'm really pleased with how it all turned out. Check it out below, and let me know what you think!



I was also really fortunate to be able perform at a few shows over the course of the poetry festival, including a fantastic fund-raising event for a local domestic violence charity, and a wonderful sharing session celebrating writing and performance by refugees and asylum seekers.

The first event fell on Thursday evening, when I popped down to the basement room at the Lord Roberts Pub to take part in Women Got Poetic Talent, hosted be the excellent Sarah Camplin. Sarah had gathered together a powerful pride of talented women to perform poetry and music in aid of the Nottingham-based domestic violence charity Equation.

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Equation is a fantastic charity that supports survivors of domestic violence (regardless of gender). The organisation also runs programmes to raise awareness of the issues surrounding domestic violence, as well as teaching school-aged children about healthy relationships.

The event itself contained some incredibly harrowing themes, with many of the poets sharing their experiences with mental health issues, suicide, self harm, domestic violence, and abuse. But, although that may sound like quite a tough evening, it was actually really humbling to hear women telling their stories, and hugely uplifting to see how people can overcome terrible situations and use their voices to speak for others.

Midnight Shelley

With fantastic performances from Michelle Hubbard, Midnight Shelley, Katy Gearing, Adeity Shavina, Lytisha Tunbridge, Elvire Roberts, Jodie Hannis, and Anne Holloway, plus a fabulous musical set from Jude Winwood, it really was a great event, and a great way to start the Poetry Festival for me!

Jodie Hannis

Then, on Friday 28th April, I wandered down to Hyson Green Library to take part in the Poetry Festival Library Tour with Henry Normal.

If you don't recognise Henry's name, you'll definitely recognise him from his body of work. He co-wrote The Royle Family with Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, and he's also produced loads of top TV like Nighty Nighty, Gavin & Stacey, and the Mighty Boosh.

Despite being a big shot in TV Land, Henry's first love has always been poetry - and his home town of Nottingham - which is why he's been so instrumental in setting up the Nottingham Poetry Festival.

Henry Normal (photo from Nottingham City of Literature)

This year, Henry's been touring round Nottingham libraries during the festival week, sharing his stuff and bringing a different local poet to each event. I was very grateful to be invited along to perform, and it was brilliant watch Henry on stage - he's just got such a warm and natural way of speaking to an audience, and his anecdotes were just as funny as his poetry was poignant.

I felt like I learned a lot.

Finally, on Saturday 29th April, I got to host a wonderful event celebrating writing from refugees and asylum seekers from across the East Midlands.

The event was the culmination of the Write Here: Sanctuary creative writing workshops, which I've been working on for the past few months with local poet Rich Goodson.

Rich and I were asked to facilitate a number of creative writing workshops with a group of refugees and asylum seekers from the Women's Cultural Exchange at the Refugee Forum in St Ann's, and we worked with a wonderful group of women for thirteen weeks, writing poems and stories for an anthology produced by the lovely folk at Writing East Midlands.

Creative Writing with Write Here: Sanctuary

The anthology, which also included work from groups in Leicester and in Derby, is due to be published in the coming weeks, but our group were really keen to perform their work in front of an audience, so we secured them a slot at the Poetry Festival, and they were just brilliant! Honestly, I couldn't be prouder of them for how hard they worked, and the fantastic quality of writing that they produced!

The event itself attracted around sixty people - including a mini-bus full of folk from the group in Leicester - and it was a really joyous experience.

Our lovely (slightly blurry) audience

There was a fab selection of food, supplied by the ladies at the women's cultural exchange, and a wonderful range of poems, stories and even songs on stage!

I'm really going to miss working with this bunch!

To end on something almost completely different, I had to let you know that the very nice folks at Sofar Sounds in Leeds recently uploaded a video of a performance that I did for them back in January. Check it out on the link below and let me know what you think! (I particularly like the bored looking audience member halfway through - look closely and see if you can spot her!)



Monday, 10 April 2017

PROSE - You


It is a Saturday morning, just after eleven a.m.

You are standing in the street outside your house, wearing your work uniform. You can see your reflection in the driver-side door of your car. Your features are indistinct and distorted by the curving chassis, so that you look almost grotesque, like a funhouse-mirror image of your real self.

The thought of your own indistinctness makes your stomach lurch, and you reach out to steady yourself on the roof of the car. You had a late night last night, and this morning your breath smells faintly of whiskey. You take a deep shuddering breath and pull open the car door, bundling yourself inside like a miner shifting a sack of coal.

The door scrapes along the uneven pavement before closing behind you with a click.

Looking out through the windscreen, you notice that the morning has taken on a strange watery light, as if it were a badly-edited photograph on an instagram profile page. It is going to be humid today and you are already far too hot. You can feel your loose trousers crumpling and sticking to the damp skin of your thighs. Your shoes feel far too big, as if your feet might have shrunk during the night.

You shift uncomfortably in the seat and pull your seatbelt into place, snapping the strap across your chest before peeling it away from the sharp edge of your collarbone.

You roll down the window and fumble for the ignition.

The street is so quiet that you can hear birdsong from the park at the end of the road, and the hum of traffic on the main road sounds so faint, a fool might mistake it for running water.

Aside from the occasional day-glow jogger or fleece-and-wellies dog-walker, you are completely alone.

You twist the key in the ignition, and the engine roars into life. The radio splutters out an angsty pop song, the beat throbbing in perfect time with the pounding in your head. You wince as you turn the volume up instead of down. The power chords reach an almost unbearable crescendo, and you twist the volume knob anti-clockwise as hard as you can, until all the noise drains from the surrounding air, like a slowly deflating balloon.

You’ve got to stop drinking before work.

You pull the car out from its parking space and ease your way down the street, wing mirrors skirting perilously close to the rows of parked cars on either side of the road.

A dog-walker in a green fleece and black and white striped wellies stops to take a photo of you on their phone. You do your best not to notice, keeping your eyes on the road.

Mirror, signal, manoeuvre.

At the top of the street, on the junction that crosses the main road, you fiddle with the Sat Nav on your phone, taking the postcode from a creased email printout you’ve excavated from the bottom of your rucksack. The address is familiar to you; you’ve been there before at least a few times. You sniff hard, punching the postcode into the Sat Nav, and letting its soothing female voice guide you left, towards the town centre.

The first three sets of traffic lights stay green as you pass by, and you whizz past the square, attracting attention only when you have to slow down to let pedestrians cross near the old bridge.

An elderly man looks up to offer a friendly salute in your direction as he makes his way over the road. When he catches sight of you, he does one of those old-fashioned incredulous double-takes, the kind you see in vintage Bugs Bunny cartoons. You raise your fingers from the steering wheel in a wave of acknowledgement – taking care not to move your head too much lest you be violently sick – but the stranger doesn’t respond to your gesture. Instead, he slowly makes his way past you, craning his neck to stare.

When he reaches the opposite side of the pavement, the man stands, dumbfounded, his eyes still fixed on your face. As you pull away, you check your rear-view mirror, and watch as he visibly shakes himself out of his trance, before wandering away towards Poundland, the back of his head bobbing in residual disbelief.

In the beginning, you would have been embarrassed by this kind of attention but you’re used to it now. You check your make up in the rear-view mirror anyway, and arch a painted eyebrow in mock dismay. Like ‘Can you believe that guy?!’

The act of moving these parts of your face makes you feel queasy, and you vow never to drink again.

You’ve crossed the train tracks now, heading east, and the streets here are more residential. You pass children playing ball in a cul de sac and mothers pushing prams towards the bus stop, getting ready for mornings filled with errands in town and coffee shop gossip with friends.

You envy them.

In front of a corner shop, a boy on a bicycle spots you out of the corner of his eye, yells to his mates who mount their own bikes and give chase, following you for a few roads before realising that they're not in the least bit intimidating, and disappearing into a park somewhere near the library.

The feeling of sickness has subsided a little since you started your drive, but your mouth still tastes metallic, like the smell of pennies.

But there is a bottle of Lucozade is your backpack, and a packet of sausage rolls. You dig through the bag and pull its contents out onto the passenger seat. Tearing the packet with one hand, you carefully fold the first sausage roll into your mouth, making sure not to smudge your lipstick on the pastry as you chew.

You have mastered the art of eating while driving, and by the time you make it to the community centre, the bottle of Lucozade is empty, and your lap is littered with crumbs.

You have reached your destination.

You drive the car onto the gravel driveway, switch off the engine and brush the crumbs from your thighs onto the floor by your feet. You feel rejuvenated, and not a moment too soon.

You pull a yellow suitcase from the back seat of the car, and wrestle it on to your lap. Opening it, you make sure the helium pump is full, cocking it like a shotgun before pressing it back into its casing, amongst the coloured handkerchiefs.

You are pleased to see that you have everything you need.

In front of you, the community centre stands, a squat brick building, crouching in the road between semi-detached bungalows on one side, and small block of flats on the other. It is a nondescript place, and not at all where you would be on a Saturday, if you had the choice. But then, choice is just a matter of perspective, and you're here now: you might as well make the best of it.

You crane your neck and peer across to the front of the building. There is a huge banner hanging above the door, which reads ‘Happy Fifth Birthday Isaac’ and, judging from the screaming coming from inside, the party is already in full swing. You press the red rubber clown nose onto your face and adjust your curly blue wig. You check your make up in the rear-view mirror one last time, take a deep breath, and open the car door...


This piece of writing was based on a prompt we were given as part of the 'Haunts' theatre writing project with New Perspectives Theatre. The task was to write a piece of prose in Second Person, where the identity of the 'You' character was not immediately obvious, but gradually became clear as the story progressed. It was nice to write a bit of prose for a change, and challenge myself to write something I wouldn't normally write. Hope you like it!


Wisbech on a sunny day


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

TUESDAY NIGHT NEWS - La Raza, City of Literature and the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards 2017

Hello hello hello! Apologies, once again for being the Amazing Disappearing Woman just recently, but it’s been very busy of late here at poetry towers! And even though that means that the ol’ blog gets a bit neglected, when I do get the chance to write some stuff down, there’s lots to tell! So, let’s get down to it, shall we?

Back on Sunday 26th March, I swooped (swope?) down to Cambridge to take part in Sunday Night Lives at La Raza in Cambridge.

I used to work in Cambridge so it was lovely to be back in the city and particularly lovely to see some recognisable faces too!

There were great live sets from Afrodita Nikolova and Fay Roberts (who has just been shortlisted for a Saboteur Award – Go Fay!) and marvellous music from Max Bianco, Jo Ash and Rebecca Heyne. The whole thing was fantastically hosted by Mark McGivern and I even got the chance to do a couple of new poems in my set, which was lovely!

Even better, Fay’s camera took its own initiative and stitched together a load of my photos into a very jazzy little gif:

What a jiffle-bum!

I had no idea I was so fidgety on stage!

Then, on Friday 31st March, it was time for the sixth annual Fenland Poet Laureate Awards, which was very pleased to be hosting alongside the very wonderful Jonathan Totman!

Logo-tastic!

In case you haven’t heard of it (And if not, why not?!) the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards are an annual competition celebrating poetry in Fenland, which is an area of very marshy land in North and East Cambridgeshire, West Norfolk and South Lincolnshire.

Each year, local writers are encouraged to submit poems reflecting some aspect of the Fens, the judges choose their favourites, and the winner is crowned Fenland Poet Laureate for the year! The laureate can then use their year in post to develop projects, organise events and generally raise the profile of poetry in the area.

Judge Rebecca Watts performing at the awards ceremony

Since I started coordinating the awards in 2014, I’ve always been massively impressed with the high quality of poems we receive.

This year, we had over 110 entries and our judges picked their top eight poems in each category. Our finalists were then invited to read their poetry at the awards ceremony, which took place at March Town Hall in Cambridgeshire.

This year, the Young Fenland Poet Laureate prize was awarded to Sophie Lutkin for her poem ‘In Situ’. I tell you, I was so impressed with this poem I genuinely thought we’d accidentally put one of the adults’ poems in the young people’s category by mistake. Sophie’s piece, which was about the archaeological finds at Must Farm in Whittlesey, showed such a mature sense of language and tone, and contained a beautiful central metaphor that really took my breath away!

Second place went to Oliver Williams for his poem ‘My Fenland Journey’, and Georgina Melia was placed third with her piece ‘Homeland Glory’. There were also five highly commended poets in this 10-17 age group: Ivy Birmingham, Thomas Fox, Thomas Kane, Tia MacNab and Phoebe Oram.

The winners in the adult category FPL 2017

The winner of the adult category was Kate Caoimhe Arthur with her poem ‘Tree’. Kate’s poem was absolutely stunning, and the judges chose it as their winner because of its original perspective. “Where most poems celebrated the wide openness of the fens landscape,” the judges said “this poem engaged with the negative implications of not being able to hide within it. It investigated the psychological impacts of the landscape, and in the final stanza drew this dirt and darkness into a domestic setting.”

Liz Davies took second place for her poem ‘A Wet Summer on the Fens’, and third prize went to Jacqueline Ogden for her poem ‘Waterways’. The five highly commended poets in the adult category were Tony Bowland, Beth Hartley, Rosemary Jones, Dominic O'Sullivan, and Sue Welfare.

Massive congratulations to Sophie and to Kate, and to all the other finalists who were kind enough to share their poetry with us this year!

My hosting style is somewhat chaotic... exhibit A above

Then, on Monday 3rd April, I was lucky enough to be asked to do some filming with the lovely people at Nottingham City of Literature, a local organisation that promotes creative writing within Nottingham.

They’d seen me performing my poem ‘No Such Thing as a Bacon Roll’ at the Nottingham Line of Light Launch back in November, and had expressed an interest in putting it on film for their website and youtube channel and I was keen to get involved, particularly with the Nottingham Poetry Festival just around the corner!

The piece is a list poem all about how much I like Nottingham, and Matt Turpin the projects manager is planning to film lots of different people saying lines from the poem, then splice it all together into a kind of vox pop mash-up. It’s such an awesome idea and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Here’s a sneak peak of some stills from yesterday’s shoot; I hope I make few silly faces in the final edit!

Whatever is going on with my face?!

Tomorrow, I’m heading down to Cambridge again to talk to the folks at the Museum of Cambridge about a new project that we’re putting together for the summer term. Then, I’ll be back in Nottingham in the evening for to do a little set at a music and poetry night at JT Soar in Sneinton. I’m performing alongside the mighty Miggy Angel and the brilliant Betty Blakey, so it promises to be a cracking night. And it’s free to get in! You should definitely come along if you can!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Write Club, New Perspectives and Against the Grain Slam

Sorry for the enormous gap in between posts again this month, folks. But, don't worry! I totally have an excuse! I've been suer-busy this month doing some A-Grade poetry gallivanting, with gigs in Lincoln, Peterborough and Cambridge, as well as a brand new writing project in the East Midlands too! So strap in and I'll tell you a little bit about what I've been up to these last few weeks:

Back on 7th March, I took myself up the A46 to the lovely hilly city of Lincoln, for my first ever performance in the city.

Lincoln Cathedral, looking all majestic and that

After meeting the marvellous Gemma Baker at Word Wise in Derby last year and hearing all about her Lincoln-based collective, Mouth Piece Poets, I was keen to check out the scene in the city, so when Gemma posted about the Against the Grain Slam on her facebook page, I jumped at the chance to get involved!

Held in the Lincoln Centre of Performing Arts on the University of Lincoln city campus, the Against the Grain slam is a relatively new spoken word performance competition, which is already attracting  a great range of performers from across the city and across the country. (I'm not kidding there - on the night I was there, there were also performers from Suffolk and as far field as Hastings!)

The standard of performances on the night was really impressive, and what struck me most was the wide variety of content and poetic styles on show during the evening.

I decided (at the last minute) to perform two wildly different poems, 'Starstruck' and 'Shaving Grace' and luckily the audience responded really warmly to them both.

Here are some stars for starstruck (not pictured, Shaving Grace)

And, although I didn't manage to scoop the top prize, I did get some really positive feedback from a few people, which is always nice to receive! I also got the chance to plug Crosswords to a brand new audience, so I'm hoping we might have a few Lincoln poets joining us for our next event on 12th April!

Massive congratulations to Andrew Kerr and Martin Shaw, the first and second place winners respectively, and to everyone else who performed on the night!

On Wednesday 8th March, I was supposed to be down in Essex for a International Women's Day event, but unfortunately, that fell through at the last minute, which meant I wasn't able to go to some of the awesome International Women's Day events taking place in Nottingham either. Boo! But instead, I read a little bit of Rupi Kaur when I got home, which felt like the right thing to do in solidarity with everyone sharing creatively on the day!

Then, on Tuesday 14th March, I scurried down the A1 to take part in Write Club at the Stoneworks in Peterborough.

Write Club is this fantastic series of events hosted by the dream team of Peterborough poetry behemoths, Mark Grist, Charley Genever, Keely Mills and Lewis Tappenden.

Each month, these four team captains assemble armies of poets to battle it out for the Write Club championship title (and a free pint) by putting together work on a theme picked by a random member of the audience. The theme for March was "How the FUCK did I get this old?" which felt quite apt for me, because I'd just experienced an epic milestone birthday the week before!

The Write Club audience (Photo by Tony Nero)

And it was a brilliant night, with some genuinely incredible performances. One of my favourite things about the format was seeing all the different ways that each of the poets interpreted the theme.

I loved Keely's beautiful piece about swimming with her dad and Charley's bizarre and brilliant poem about the the ageing female body (playfully entitled Hairy Nipple).

Mark read out two poems from his most recent workshops in schools, and the piece by fourteen-year-old Olivia, a teenager articulating her life with autism, was so gut-wrenchingly visceral that it had most of the audience in tears by the end.

Keely Mills doing her thing!

I also really enjoyed Alex's hilarious tongue-in-cheek complaint about the future bearing little resemblance to the apocalypse-scarred, hoverboard-cruising world portrayed in those eighties movies we watched as kids. I wanted to jump up at one point and shout Amen, I was so totally in agreement with his sentiments. Like "Yeah! Where's my hoverboard, eh Michael J Fox?!"

It's probably the most I've ever agreed with the content of a poem, ever.

Anyway, I'd written a new poem especially for Write Club, and I was a bit nervous about reading it out on the night because A) I haven't written anything new for bloody ages and I was afraid that I'd forgotten how to be funny, and B) I'd resolved to write it in free verse (coz I don't do that often enough) and I actually feel really emotionally naked without a good rhyming couplet to fall back on.

#poetryfeels

So I was pretty elated when my poem went down well; the audience were super attentive and they even laughed in the right places, which is always a plus!

Here's me giving it some attitude!

In fact, our whole team did a superb job, unpacking the theme from so many different angles, it was hard to keep up with them all! In the end, the audience must've liked our stuff because they voted our team, the Lifegoats, the overall winners for the event! Yay!

Seriously though, I absolutely loved the good-natured rivalry of Write Club, with its rowdy but receptive audience, and the standard of poetry was excellent across the board. Thanks to Keely, Charley, Mark and Lewis for inviting me along, and definitely make sure you catch Write Club as soon as you can! 

Finally this week, I've started working with New Perspectives, a local theatre company based in Nottingham, on a project called Haunts.


Haunts is a brand new training project for five early career playwrights from the East Midlands. Between March and June we'll be working with dramaturg William Drew and playwright David Rudkin to create ten minute dramas based in specific locations around the East Midlands. These pieces will then be professionally recorded and turned into downloadable audio walks to be experienced in the locations where they are based.

It's a really exciting project, and completely unlike anything I've ever done before, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how it all develops.

Last Saturday, we spent the afternoon wandering around Nottingham city centre, writing short audio walks of the city, and despite the pouring rain, it was a really enjoyable experience. We drew circles on maps of the city, then tried to walk the route of the circle as best we could. For me, this meant diving in and out of shops, using pubs as thoroughfares, and ducking down dead-end alleys, only to find fire escapes and small spaces to squeeze through, back onto the main road.

Is this an adventure, or a mistake?

For our homework, we have to record a ten minute walk for our fellow participants to follow at next weeks' session - wish me luck with that one!

This evening, I'm off to my old stomping ground to take part in Sunday Night Lives at La Raza in Cambridge. They'll be poetry, music and even a bit of comedy, and all hosted by the fantastic Mark McGivern! And, best of all, it's free! Come check us out if you're in the area!

Oh, and one final thing before I go, do you remember at the end of last month when the lovely folks at Left Lion magazine gave me some space to write an article about the Nottingham spoken word scene? Well, you can now read that bit of writing on their website. Why not have a little look-see? You never know, you might even like it!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS – March Gigs and the end of 28 Sonnets Later

I can’t believe that the 28 Sonnets Later Project is over for another year!

It’s been wonderful working with Russell and Andy again, and equally wonderful getting to know Olly through his poems, and I’m really hoping that the four of us will get the chance to meet up in real life (Quelle horreur!) and maybe even perform some of this year’s sonnets in front of an audience!

"Hi Shakespeare, how's it going?"

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge this year too; we wanted to write 28 sonnets about the 28 members states of the EU, and it’s been a genuinely enlightening experience. I’ve learned that the Dutch are the tallest people in the world (on average) and that Skype was invented in Estonia. (Who knew?) I also found that some people think that Finland doesn't exist, and that the Swedish phrase for television static translates to ‘Ants War’ in English - which is one of my favourite facts I’ve probably ever ever learned!

I mean, it’s unlikely that any of this information will be ever be useful to me again, but in my opinion, there’s no such thing as useless knowledge!

Anyway, here are sonnets 13 through 28 for your reading pleasure:

#13 - Die Hermannsschlacht by Andy Bennett
#14 - An Emerald Heart by me
#15 NotwhatIthoughtyou'dsay by Olly Watson
#16 - All Saints' Day by Russell J Turner
#17 – Dynastic by Andy Bennett
#18 - Myrornas Krig by me
#19 – Cinderella Feet by Olly Watson
#20 – Southerscales by Russell J Turner

#21 - Navel Gazing by Andy Bennett
#22 – Imaginary by me
#23 - Wrapped in a White Sheet by Olly Watson
#24 – Christiania by Russell J Turner
#25 – Contramural by Andy Bennett
#26 - You Can't Possibly Rhyme Anything with Estonia, So Don't Even Try by me
#27 - And September Brings a Question by Olly Watson
#28 - 'the other' by Russell J Turner

You can check out the 28 Sonnets Later website to see all the poems in their natural habit, and you can follow us on Twitter for bonus sonnety goodness too!

I’m really going to miss the sonnet writing as February slides into March, but luckily, I’ve got some fun gigs coming up next month to ease the pain!

There’s no Crosswords in the caves in March (we’re taking a break so that I can celebrate mah birthday) so instead, I’ve managed to sneak my way into performing at three events that I’ve never been to before – happy birthday to me indeed!

The first one is the Against the Grain Poetry Slam, which is taking place on Tuesday 7th March at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre in Lincoln town. I’m really looking forward to this one, as I haven’t stretched my competitive poetry muscles for about two years now! I’ve never performed in Lincoln before so I’m really stoked to see what the scene is like in the city – and hopefully there’ll be one or two lovely poets who I can pop on my Crosswords Featured Poet Wishlist too. (Seriously that Wishlist is getting EPICALLY long – I’m like a spoiled child writing to Father Christmas!)

Lincoln looks well nice! (Photo by Richard Croft)

Then, on Tuesday 14th March, I’m popping down to Peterborough to take part in Write Club, which is a really cool new show created by the very wonderful ‘borough bards Mark Grist, Charley Genever, Lewis Tappenden and Keely Mills.

Four teams of poets compete on the night, and the aim of the game is for each team to write twenty minutes on a theme chosen by an audience member. On 14th March, the theme will be “How the fuck did I get this old?” – a serendipitously fitting topic, given my BIG BIRTHDAY this month. The teams are judged on the night by a friendly audience of rowdy poetry lovers, and the winners will be crowned kings and queens of Write Club!

Pictured: some kings and queens of Write Club - probably...

Should be a good laugh, I reckon!

Finally, I’m rounding off my month in Cambridge for Sunday Night Lives at La Raza, which is a venue that I’ve heard a lot of good things about, but have never actually managed to get to. I’ve been invited along by the very local poet Mark McGivern, who runs the events, and I can’t wait to be back in Cambridge, even if it is for a flying visit.

When I left the city two years’ ago, the poetry scene was bijou but thriving, and I’ve been delighted to watch from afar as new events have sprung up, and established events moved to very swanky new venues. Now, I’m really excited to be going back to check it out in person, and bother all my Cambridge friends into hanging out with me too!

Cambridge looking very sunny indeed (Photo by Andrew Dunn)

Then, we head into April – spring will hopefully have sprung, and I’ll be super busy with all the Nottingham Poetry Festival events that are happening! (Seriously - I've managed to weedle my way into about seven events across two weeks. If I die of poetry-exhaustion, at least I'll die happy!)

Keep your eyes peeled for more information on all those lovely events coming soon!

Also, before I forget, the lovely folk at Left Lion were kind enough to let me waffle on about the Nottingham Poetry scene in the latest edition of their very excellent magazine. You can pick up copies of the Left Lion in all the cool bars, cafes and other nice places around Nottingham, or check out the digital version of the publication on their website. Let me know what you think of my adorably bad journalistic skills!

The offending article (with a marvellous head line pun!)

Sunday, 12 February 2017

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Light Night, Hysteria and 28 Sonnets Later

Hello there, and welcome to February! It’s one of my favourite months of the year because February is 28 Sonnets Later month!

In case you haven’t heard of it before, 28 Sonnets Later is a little project that Andy Bennett, Russell J Turner, Adam Warne and I started in 2012, in which we give ourselves 28 days to write 28 sonnets on a given topic. In recent years we’ve tried our hand at ekphrastic poetry, and a collaborative sonnet corona, as well as writing a series of very silly but enjoyable poems based on the fictional town of Buckley Oak.

Barbara Hepworth's Family of Man - one of the pieces we sonnetified in 2016

This year, the 28 Sonnets Later team (with 28SL newbie Olly Watson) are writing sonnets based on the 28 member states of the EU. We’re doing this for two reasons: it’s a deliciously topical subject right now (And we love a bit of current affairs!) and, until Theresa May has her wicked wicked way, there are still 28 countries in the union – which suits our project perfectly!

Look at this cool EU (and EC) gif! Made by Kolja21

So far, we’ve collectively written twelve sonnets, which I have popped in a list below for your convenience:

#1 Vadleany by Andy Bennett
#2 ¿No es irónico? by me
#3 Notch by Olly Watson
#4 December 25th 1989 by Russell J Turner
#5 Moravianska Venuša by Andy Bennett
#6 Peckish in Amsterdam by me

#7 Flowers in Odd Bunches by Olly Watson
#8 Claretta by Russell J Turner
#9 Vive by Andy Bennett
#10 Massis by me
#11 Ruben by Olly Watson
#12 Melania by Russell J Turner

I genuinely love writing sonnets as part of this project – it really cheers me up in the long dark evenings of February! I always seem to get properly obsessed with the poems, so much so that I even start speaking in iambic pentameter, and I find myself accidentally rhyming in every day conversation.

These are the hazards of being a poet, kids!

Anyway, you can check out the 28 Sonnets Later website to see a new poem every day in February, or follow us on Twitter to keep an eye on all things sonnety!

Zombie Shakespeare FTW!

And, my audio soundscape poetry-based project 'Hysteria' is still on at the LiSTEN iN gallery in the Bonington Atrium at Nottingham Trent University from Monday 13th - 17th March. The twenty minute looped piece plays every week day from 9am - 6pm, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, please do pop down and give it a little listen.

The project is a selection of my poems which we've recorded and mixed with a bit of sound/music, and it focuses on female bodies, personal preference, and the subversion traditional femininity, all with a heaped teaspoon full of irreverence thrown in for good measure! Thank you to everyone who has been to check it out so far – it’s been really lovely to hear that people have enjoyed listening to it!

Hysterical? Me?

This week has also been a busy one in terms of gigs, with three Nottingham-based events in quick succession:

On Wednesday 8th February, we were back in the caves for another excellent Crosswords Open Mic at the Malt Cross, with an absolutely brilliant featured set from Jim Hall! Jim stunned the audience with heartfelt lyrical tales from his latest collection, BOY, and also gave us a sneaky peak at some of his newer work too.

The very excellent Jim Hall!

We also had some wonderful performances on the open mic, with a great mix of content, styles and experiences being shared on stage. It was another full house – which is always so lovely to see – and although we didn’t manage to get everyone a slot on the open mic, it was still a pretty great night!

Next month we’re taking a break from Crosswords, but we’ll be back in the caves on Wednesday 12th April with a massive featured set courtesy of Norwich-based poet Piers Harrison-Reid. Piers is an incredible poet, and I’ve loved his work ever since I saw him perform in Norwich about five or six years ago.

The supremely talented Piers Harrison-Reid

His stuff is beautifully-crafted, profound and philosophical, with a meticulous eye for detail and I love the way he takes his audience on amazing emotional journeys and I can't wait to hear him performing an extended set with us! So come check him out on Weds 12th April – it's gunna be wild!

Then, on Friday 10th Feb I went down to the basement of the Nottingham Writers' Studio for some Light Night celebrations with the DIY Poets.

Light Night photos from the West Bridgford Wire

Light Night is this festival in Nottingham where shops and organisations open their doors for an evening of illuminations based around the theme of Light. There's a huge ferris wheel in the market square, lots of glorious street food and tonnes and tonnes of lovely light displays and projections all over the city centre. It's a really cool event, which very much appeals to my latent pagan sensibilities!

This year, as part of the festival, the DIY Poets presented a curated poetry show on the theme of light and dark. Hosted by Frank McMahon and Martin Grey, and with short spoken word sets from ten of the DIY Poets, the event also served as a launch night for Kevin Jackson's first collection 'Touching You'. It was a great night with some really impressive performances, and it was wonderful to hear an extended set from Kevin. I can't wait to settle down and read his book now!

Finally this week, we had a little poetry road trip to Southwell for the Folk at the Hop Barn gig with Claude Bourbon.

Claude's guitar work was incredible!

There were four of us in our little poetry troupe: Hazel Warren, Martin Grey, Andy Szpuk and me, and we really enjoyed playing to a different sort of crowd. The audience were clearly not expecting any poetry, and as we got on stage, I could see the fear in some of their faces.

Luckily, the gang gave a brilliant performance, and we completely won the crowd over by the end of our set! A lady even came up to us afterwards to say that she had been 'a bit apprehensive' at the mention of poetry but that we were 'really good' so she was pleasantly surprised. And it's always nice to surprise people into enjoying poetry, I always say!

It looks like I'm telling the audience off here; must be my no nonsense heels!

Friday, 27 January 2017

FRIDAY NIGHT NEWS – Leeds, Cardiff and Hysteria at the Bonington Gallery


I have been appallingly bad at keeping this blog up to date so far this year, haven’t I? Good job “do a blog post every week” wasn’t one of my New Year’s Resolutions, eh?

But, to be fair to me, it’s been a bit of a busy start to the year!

On Wednesday 11th January, we had another brilliant Crosswords Open Mic at the Malt Cross, with a cracking headline set from Hazel Rah Monaghan, who absolutely wowed us all with her beautiful words.

We also had some fantastic stuff on the open mic, and there were almost fifty people in the caves for the show, which was really wonderful to see – if a little bit cramped!

Rave in a cave, amiright?

Next month, our feature is the incredible Nottingham-based poet Jim Hall. I’m really excited for this one, because I’ve admired Jim’s work ever since I first saw him at Poetry is Dead Good back in 2015. His poetry is thoughtful, profound, and intense in the most gentle lyrical way, and you should definitely come check him out if you’re in the area on 8th Feb – I promise you won’t regret it!

The marvellous Jim Hall

On Saturday 14th January, I ambled down the A1 to do some poems at the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival.

The Straw Bear Festival is one of those really idiosyncratic local events that only seem to happen in the British countryside. This particular festival involves a person dressing up in a suit of straw and dancing around the market square, ostensibly to ensure a good harvest for the town for the following year, but also as an excuse for a nice day out for Fen folk in the bitter mid-January cold.

The festival also includes lots of excellent food and drink, as well as poetry, storytelling and loads and loads and loads of morris dancers.

A little bit of Morris 

If it sounds completely weird, that’s because it kind of is, but it’s also pretty good fun. Plus the lovely folk at Poets United, a Peterborough-based poetry collective, have been kind enough to invite me to do poems with them at this festival for the past three years.

We had a great time telling poems in Whittlesey town hall this time around, and it was lovely to be performing with Poets United again. And I even managed to perform some of my poems from memory – without forgetting any of the words! – which is something that I’ve been practising for ages, but haven't had the chance to properly try out until now. Hooray!

I reckon I was inspired by the Straw Bear dancing to be honest. Hopefully my witnessing it will help ensure a fruitful and poetic 2017!

The Straw Bear himself (right)

Then, on Thursday 19th January, I skipped out of work an hour early and swooped up the motorway to Leeds for my first ever performance in the city.

I’d been invited to do some poems in Leeds by the lovely people at Sofar Sounds. In case you haven't heard of them yet, Sofar Sounds are this really cool global movement facilitating gigs for emerging artists and their audiences in really intimate venues in cities across the world.

Source

Audiences sign up to receive the gig dates each month, and book their tickets without knowing who will be on stage, or whereabouts the show will take place in their chosen city. It could be anywhere, from a room above a pub or a church hall, to an outdoor space or even someone’s living room! The address of the venue isn’t announced until the day before the event, and the line-up isn’t announced until the audience actually arrive at the gig - making the whole thing seem a bit clandestine and very very cool.

Sofar Sounds primarily provide space for musicians and bands, but the Leeds team were really keen to have a bit of poetry on their setlist, so they signed me up. I was the first non-music act they’d ever had, which made me feel super nervous on the night!

I forgot to ask my friend to take pics at the gig, so here are chicken feet instead

I’d brought along my friends Catie and Ben for moral support (and because I was planning on sleeping on their sofa afterwards, so it would be a bit rude not to invite them!) and the gig went really well! There were about fifty people in the space and, because Sofar Sounds pride themselves on maintaining a really respectful ethos, the audience were dead attentive, which was really lovely!

I felt proper euphoric coming off stage, and had a brilliant time chatting with members of the audience during the breaks. It was also really great to hear some top quality music from Matt Grayson who played a series of stripped-back songs by his band, Walton Hesse, as well as the brilliant experimental sounds of Amy Fitz Doyley, who employed a vocoder, a bass guitar, and some lovely hand chimes in her performance!

Amy is much better at getting people to photograph her at her gigs...

Hopefully, they’ll be a couple of videos out soon from this gig, so I’ll keep you in the loop when they drop! Thanks to everyone at Sofar Sounds Leeds for having me!

And, if that wasn’t enough excitement for one week, I also had a little jaunt to foreign climes on Monday 23rd January. Fancy that!

Well actually I went to Cardiff, not San Paulo or Tokyo. And, while Wales is technically another country, it’s probably not quite as exotic as I first made it out to be… Hashtag hyperbole, I guess.

This is what Wales looks like from space - pretty cool, eh? 

Anyway, I’d invited myself along to Juke open mic in Cardiff city centre and Renn, who runs the night, had very kindly given me a featured slot at the event.

The theme of the show was abstinence and over-indulgence - which was pretty fitting given the time of year - and the standard of poetry on the open mic was incredibly high. There were poems about love, sex (or the lack of it), sobriety and eating disorders, as well as poems about dancing and darkness, stories about superheroes, and of course the odd anti-Trump pastiche thrown in for good measure.

Excellent night, terrible posture!

I love the idea of setting a theme for participants to use in their writing, and it was wonderful to see so many people engaged spoken word on a cold Monday night in Cardiff. Renn and her team have built up a really welcoming night, which felt really grounded and well-established, despite only having started in 2015.

And I have honestly never met a friendlier set of people, and we all talked late into the night about poetry and writers’ groups and it was glorious! I’ll definitely be going back to Cardiff to do more stuff as soon as I can!

Upcoming Stuff:
Next week, my audio soundscape poetry based project 'Hysteria' is being played at the LiSTEN iN gallery in the Bonington Atrium at Nottingham Trent University. The project, which I've been working on with sound technician Rob Squirrell for the past couple of months, is a selection of my poems which we've recorded and mixed with a bit of sound/music, and I'm really excited that it's finally getting out into the world!

'Hysteria' focuses on female bodies, personal preference, and the examination and subversion traditional femininity, and the LiSTEN iN gallery will be playing it on loop from Monday 30th January to Friday 17th February. The Bonington Atrium is open from 9am to 6pm every weekday, so if you're in Nottingham, why not come along and give it a little listen? I'll love you forever if you do!



And, with February just around the corner, it's time to gear up for another 28 Sonnets Later extravaganza! This year, we'll be writing twenty-eight sonnets about a certain political hot-potato, and I'm really looking forward to getting to grips with something a little bit meaty (if that's not too much of a mixed food-based metaphor).

Check us out from Wednesday 1st February to find out all about this year's challenge, or keep up to date with all the sonnet-writing goodness via the 28 Sonnets Later twitter page!