Friday, 29 December 2017

2017 Year in Review

Well, that was 2017. What a year!

Some of my adventures in 2017

And - as is customary on this blog - it’s time for me to have a little think about all the weird and wonderful things I've been up to this year. This isn't an exhaustive list, but here are a few of the main highlights from the year:

January // February // March
In January, I did my first gig in Wales when I travelled across to Cardiff to perform at Juke. I also had a fantastic time in Leeds at Sofar Sounds, and did a sneaky set at the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey. (There were Morris Dancers EVERYWHERE!)

Then, in February, I got back into sonnet writing with Russell J Turner, Andy Bennett and Olly Watson, as part of the sixth annual 28 Sonnets Later challenge. This time around we did poems based on the twenty-eight EU countries (in honour of the car-crash that is Brexit), and I really enjoyed being back in the sonnet-writing saddle! I also performed at Light Night in Nottingham and I even had a soundscape of my poems exhibited in an art gallery!

March was another busy month: I competed in the Against the Gain Slam in Lincoln, performed at Write Club in Peterborough, and wrote a short site-specific play as part of the Haunts project at New Perspectives Theatre. I performed a set at La Raza in Cambridge and co-hosted the sixth Fenland Poet Laureate Awards with the lovely FPL crew too!

Comedy GIF of me at La Raza Cambridge (courtesy of Fay Roberts)

April // May // June
In April, I took part in the Nottingham Poetry Festival, supporting Henry Normal during his Nottingham library tour, performing at the Equation Fundraiser and hosting the Write Here: Sanctuary sharing event. I also had my first encounter with Nottingham City of Literature when the lovely Matt Turpin filmed my poem 'No Such Thing as a Bacon Roll'.

May marked the beginning of the festival season, and I did sets at Badbury Rings Rewind in Bournemouth, and the Gate to Southwell Festival in Nottinghamshire. Then, in June I did two workshops in Cambridge, and it was wonderful to be back in the city for a few days, hanging out by the river in the sunshine!

Cambridge in the sunshine 

July // August // September
I ran children's writing workshops at Ely Folk Festival in July, as well as supporting Sophia Walker at the Word Theatre in Lincoln, and performing at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack at WOMAD Festival.

Doing some poems in the rain at WOMAD

In August I finally made it to the Edinburgh Fringe, and I did sets with She Grrrowls, For Book's Sake, Allographic Other Voices, and Up the Nerd Punks, as well as competing in the Hammer and Tongue Edinburgh Slam. Edinburgh was a great experience, and I saw so many brilliant shows while I was up there too.

September was when I performed at Green Fest in Nottingham, as well as at She Speaks in Derby. I also nabbed a featured slot at Wordmakers and Silence Breakers in Bournemouth, and did some poems for National Poetry Day. I judged a poetry slam for the first time (which was really nerve-wracking) and did a tonne of workshops with young refugees in Nottingham too. I also started my job with Nottingham City of Literature, which has been such an incredible experience so far!

Check out my UNESCO Logo swag...

October // November // December
October was a month filled with local gigs and projects: I did more work with young refugees and asylum-seekers, and I worked with Nottingham City Council as their Diwali Poet, and did two sets at Hockley Hustle too! I started working with Nottingham's new Young Poet Laureate, Georgina Wilding, as well and I tell you what - she's an utter delight! (You can book her for gigs and workshops here.)

Beautiful Diwali  

I went to my first writers' conference in November, and performed at the FIRST EVER Derby Poetry Festival, as well as sets at Every Last Biscuit in Nottingham and at Run Your Tongue in Kettering. Finally, in December I read at Love Music Hate Racism, Small Acts of Kindness, and Big White Christmas Shed.

Amazing group of women from the Write Here: Sanctuary project

Massive thanks to everyone who booked me to perform poetry, do workshops or commission me to write a poem for them in 2017. You lot are the best! And here’s to an even busier 2018!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

POEM - A Christmas Sonnet

So, it turns out it's nearly Christmas (Wait, what?!?!) and I've written you a slightly weird Christmas sonnet, in honour of the season. I  hope you like it, and I hope you have a have a peaceful and restful Christmas! 

A Christmas Sonnet 
When Michael Keaton ate our Christmas tree,
the noise made Sandra Bullock run away.
We found her in the shed on Christmas day;
and coaxed her back with turkey for her tea.

Then Morgan Freeman took a shine to Gran
and spent the evening sitting on her knee
so, feeding Tilda Swinton fell to me
but all she seemed to want was cheese and jam.

Soon, Tilda had been sick and so had Ke$ha,
and Kanye West had shuffled off next door.
My cousin couldn’t cope with all the pressure;
he went to sit with Oprah on the floor.

My granddad thought that I should take the blame
“For giving all your cats such stupid names!”

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!

Saturday, 16 December 2017

POEM - More Christmas Clerihews

Well, it's nearly Christmas, and you know what that means? Yes! More Christmas Clerihews

It is well-documented that I love a Christmas Clerihew or three and, true to form, I've been busy writing some more this year in the run up to the festive season. 

In case you've never heard of it before, a Clerihew is a type of short, nonsensical poem in which you take a famous figure or celebrity, and tell you some wildly untrue or spurious information about them as if it were fact. 

The more ridiculous, the better. 

Clerihews are usually four lines long, and they have a simple AABB rhyme scheme, an uneven/wonky meter and a lot of forced rhymes too. Basically, they're meant to read like deliberately Bad Poetry. This makes them  perfect for a little bit of seasonal silliness:

Baby Jesus
loves stinky cheeses.
I know that he's God's only son
but he's just eaten all of our Stilton!

Joseph and Mary
love stationery.
If the stable had run out of space,
they'd've spent the night in Paperchase.

Mariah Carey
is impressively hairy;
now her fans are all spending their cash
attempting to steal her moustache.

St Nicholas
is getting pissed.
After five million glasses of sherry,
he's closer to shit-faced than merry...

King Wenceslaus
has a fabulous arse.
It's deep and it's crisp and it's even -
and one hundred times better than Stephen's.

King Wenceslaus (not pictured, his fabulous arse)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

POEM - Crowd-Sourced Diwali Poem

Earlier this month, I spent some time working with Nottingham City Council on some creative writing workshops celebrating Diwali in the city.

We did four workshops in various different community settings, writing poems around themes of home, community, journeys and displacement. And, once the workshops were finished, we gathered up the poems like a bountiful harvest and the Council made some of them into lovely poetry postcards! 

I then spent a couple of days out in the Market Square, talking to people about poetry, performing poems, handing out free poetry, and writing bespoke rhymes for festival-goers. 

The view from the Market Square on Saturday afternoon

It was really lovely to be surrounded by Indian dancers, traditional musicians, visual artists and food  vendors, and the atmosphere was brilliant! There was a parade on Friday evening that included music, dancing and a three-metre-tall mechanical elephant, as well as a beautiful installation of paper lanterns made by members of the community.

Pictured: some pretty beautiful lanterns!

But the best bit of the event was talking with people about what Diwali means to them. I learnt a lot about the festival, the traditions surrounding it and the ways in which people celebrate. I also gathered loads of phrases about Diwali from Nottingham folk, and used all these lovely words as the basis for a 'crowd-sourced' poem about the event. 

Here's the poem. I hope you like it. Happy Diwali!

The Mechanical Elephant

May this Diwali be as bright as ever!

It is October 2017
and I am four thousand miles
from home, dreaming away the
dark evenings, when I see him,
surrounded by the coloured lights.

Something exciting is happening.
Something joyful. There are dancers
and drummers at his feet, and crowds
of people line his path as he moves.

An unexpected sight in a crowded
market square, in an East Midlands
town, on an warm autumn evening.
And as I watch I wonder how many
elephants have walked this way before?

And how many people have
come seeking sanctuary?

There are different coloured lights
blooming from the ground, and
we buy Laddu and Jalebi wrapped
in wax paper. Dropping each morsel
into our mouths, past lantern-lit lips
that won't stop smiling.

And my heart feels like a Rangoli
pattern tonight. It feels like a wick
dipped in ghee fizzing into flame.
It feels like a cracker bursting
in the starry sky. It feels beautiful.

And when the fireworks finally start
– pink and yellow, blue and gold –
you tell me about Rama and Sita,
Lakshmana and Hanuman and I watch
the colours dance in your words.

I have smiled at more strangers
tonight than I ever had before. Each
conversation uncoiling me, as the drums
beat in my chest like the rhythm of the
universe. It's as if we each share a secret,
like we are all part of something larger than

And as the elephant and the dancers move
away and the music fades, I watch the faces
of people passing by. Their eyes radiate hope,
like lanterns lighting up the darkness and
guiding us home.

The Peace Builders sculpture - with glow in the dark words!

Huge thanks to Ruby, Adriana, Aadhya, Deepti, George (the Community Support Officer), Srinidhi and Thanvi, Alicia, Mina, Becky and Becca, Olivia, Jamie, and Sadie and Sean for contributing words and phrases to this community poem, and to Emma, Jenny and Tony for taking the time to stop and talk to me about Diwali too!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS - Diwali Poetry, Buzzwords and Hockley Hustle

How do? I can’t believe it’s nearly Halloween already! I hope you’ve got your costume sorted? I’m 100% ready to party.

Ready to party...

This month, I’ve been really busy with oodles of workshops, gigs and some truly lovely writing projects as well! So, let's do a little round up of what's been going down, shall we?

On Thursday 28th September, I celebrated National Poetry Day with a trip to Beeston (a short tram ride from Nottingham city centre) for an event announcing the winner of the Buzzwords competition.

Fab local magazine the Beestonian had launched this competition to find a poem to represent their town and, as I sometimes do my shopping there, I felt qualified to enter with a little ditty of my own.

The Beestonian!

In the end, my poem didn’t win, but it was one of twelve that was shortlisted, which was a pretty nice ego boost. Also, I think it was the first time I've ever written a successful villanelle, so that's a definite plus.

I’ve popped the poem up on the blog, so you can check it out here. Let me know what you think!

Then, on Sunday 8th October, I managed to wangle not one but two performances at Hockley Hustle, Nottingham’s premier indie music and arts festival!

The Hustle (as it’s known to all the cool kids) is this brilliant series of gigs, events and workshops that all take place in one day in the ultra-trendy part of Nottingham called Hockley. There are performers, parades, food stalls and buskers in all the streets, and shops, cafes, and pubs transform into quirky little performance spaces for musicians and poets.

The bustle of the Hustle

This year, there were over three hundred acts performing across thirty stages, and I was delighted to do some poems as part of the We Shall Overcome stage at the Lord Roberts as well as a performance for Poetry is Dead Good at Lee Rosy’s tea shop too.

(You can watch one of my poems from the We Shall Overcome stage here. Massive thanks to Keith Turner for recording me!)

It was also great to watch some marvellous local poets like Lytisha Tunbridge, Kevin Jackson, Elvire Roberts, Katy Gearing, Bridie Squires, Joshua Judson, Chris Lanyon and Neal Pike.

Hanging out with lovely poets!

We're really spoiled for spoken word talent in this city, and events like this remind me not to take it for granted!

Then, on Wednesday 11th October, we had another great evening at Crosswords with a wonderful featured set from Char March, who took the audience on an emotional roller-coaster with poems about accents, animals, flooding, and an incredibly touching piece about the death of her mother.

Next month, we have a headline set from the very marvellous Chris Martin (No, not that one.) and I can't wait to welcome him down to the caves for some subterranean spoken word! The show is on Wednesday 8th November at the Malt Cross in Nottingham. Doors open at 7:30pm for an 8pm start. See you there!

The lovely Chris Martin (performing at FTRW in Leicester)

Another big thing I've been doing this month is working with Nottingham City Council to facilitate a series of workshops with community groups ahead of this year's Diwali in the city.

In the last two weeks, I've been along to lots of different sessions, talking with people and writing poems with them around themes of home, community, displacement and tradition. I worked with refugees and asylum-seekers and young people, as well as groups of older people, many of whom have lived in Nottingham all their lives.

It was so nice to hear about the experiences of such diverse groups of people, and it was lovely to help them to share their stories through creative writing too.

Once the workshops were finished, we took the poems that had been created, as well as those submitted to me by local poets as part of the project, and the Council made some of them into beautiful postcards!

Look how nice they are!

Then, I spent two days in the city centre as Diwali poet-in-residence, surrounded by Indian dancers, traditional musicians, artists and food vendors. There was a parade on Friday evening with a three metre tall mechanical elephant (Yes, really!) as well as a brilliant installation of paper lanterns made by members of the community.

I spent most of my residency writing bespoke poems for festival-goers, handing out free poetry postcards and performing poems for slightly bemused (but ultimately appreciative) members of the public.

I spoke to loads of people about what Diwali means to them, and I used all these conversations as the basis for a 'crowd-sourced' poem about the event. I'm really pleased with how the poem turned out, and I can't wait for it be published later this month!

Beautiful Lanterns!

A fab art installation made by Peace Builders Nottingham

Thursday, 12 October 2017

POEM - Advice to Myself

Waaaaaaay back in July 2014, I embarked upon my first Writer-in-Residence position, spending three days on the Suffolk Coast as part of the Museum of Beyond project.

The Museum of Beyond was the work of Fran Crowe, an artist I met while doing some volunteer stewarding for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Fran’s work is heavily influenced by ecological concerns, and she works to raise awareness of environmental issues. She spent almost ten years collecting some of the plastic items that wash up on the beaches in and around Suffolk, and she used this rubbish to create a variety of artworks drawing attention to the problems associated with plastic litter in our oceans.

Exhibit A

I spent three days at the South Lookout on Aldeburgh beach, soaking up the lovely sunny atmosphere and responding the the Museum's collection. 

It was a glorious experience, and as autumn draws in, it's really nice to remember blue skies, pebbly beaches, and wrestling my fish and chips from the beak of an over-friendly seagull. (Get off, you cheeky bugger!)

My home for the Museum of Beyond Residency

Why am I telling you all this now?

Well, as part of the residency, I wrote nine poems about various objects being displayed as part of the project. One of the poems I wrote while I was there was called 'Change' and was based on this piece of sign that Fran found on the beach just up the coast from where the exhibition took place.

It definitely says 'change' and not 'danger'

I've been thinking about change a lot recently, because there's been some big changes in my life just recently.

Like most people, I instinctively fear change – I think it's that creeping horror of the unknown that really gives me the existential heeby-jeebies - but earlier this summer, I found myself in a position where I was really unhappy, but terrified of making a change. 

I mean, what if I made a move, strived for something better, and then found myself in a position that was somehow even worse than where I started?


Luckily my friends and family persuaded me to get my bum in gear and do something, and I'm really glad that I did!

Of course, not all change is positive but more often than not, change is a good thing, and I'm slowly learning to embrace that.

Anyway, all that self-indulgent introspection led me to dig out my 'Change' poem, and get to work editing and re-drafting it. I'm pretty pleased with the results. I'm hoping to might be able to perform this one soon, so let me know what you think!

Advice to Myself

That's what the sign said.
Because a change is as good as a rest
and the rest can take care of itself.

Change now. Change for good.
Change until the next time it's
time to change.

Change the pace;
change your ways.
Have a change of heart.

Find a change of scenery
and emerge changed.
Because even small change
can change everything.

Some people say
the more things change
the more they stay the same.

I say
embrace the infinite
possibilities of change.
(You can always change back
if you change your mind.)

Know that flexibility breeds creativity
And inertia is a choice born from fear.

Choose to change

not for the sake of changing
but for the experience of being changed.

Some things never change:
don't be one of them.

Friday, 6 October 2017

POEM - The Tattoo

Last week, I was delighted to have one of my poems shortlisted for a poetry competition over in Beeston.

Lovely local magazine the Beestonian were on the look-out for a poem to represent the town, so I thought I'd have a crack at writing something and sending it in.

Beeston, looking all lovely in the sunshine

In the end, my poem ended up a bit maudlin, and the competition for the top spot was pretty fierce, so I'm actually just really pleased to have been shortlisted.

I'm also pretty happy to have written a villanelle that doesn't suck (after having written plenty that did) so that nice.

The winning poems in the adult and under 16s categories (written by Cathy Grindrod and Ava Waring respectively) have been published in the Beestonian magazine, and all the top poems in the competition will be exhibited in the town soon.

Anyway, here's my poem. I'm pretty happy with it. I hope you like it!

The Tattoo
If I could paint this town onto my skin
I'd load my brush with countless memories.
I'd struggle to decide where to begin.

After all, it's hard to place a pin
into a state of mind: a reverie.
If I could paint this town onto my skin

it would take courage and some discipline;
a bravery not seen for centuries.
I'd struggle to decide where to begin.

You see, nostalgia breeds the saccharin,
and true reflection comes through lack of ease.
If I could paint this town onto my skin –

contemplating all that we have been;
the fleeting glance of all that we could be?
I'd struggle to decide where to begin.

Excuses wearing tracing-paper thin
I guess I'm just not one for artistry.
If I could paint this town onto my skin
I'd struggle to decide where to begin.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

POEM - National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year's theme is 'Freedom'.

Of course, there are loads of incredible poems on the subject of Freedom (some of my favourites are here, here , here, here, and here) but I figured that, on National Poetry Day, it would be remiss of me not to have a go at writing something for myself.

So here is a poem. The title comes from a book called The First Blast of the Trumpet Against a Monstrous Regiment of Women, which was written by John Knox in 1588. (Evidently, he was not keen on Elizabeth I becoming Queen...) 

In this context, the word Monstrous means 'unnatural', because it's completely unnatural for a lady-girl to be in charge of anything other than managing the staff, amirite?

The term 'a monstrous regiment of women' was then appropriated in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries to criticise women's involvement in the political sphere, from the French Revolution to the women's suffrage movement. 

Whatever next?

Personally, I think we should all stand to be a bit more monstrous:

Monstrous Woman
I want to be a Monstrous Woman
To speak out of turn
To take up space
To scandalise tabloid newspapers

I want to question authority
To win more fights than I lose
To take my fair share
And allow you to take yours too

I want never to apologise for myself again

I want to be a Monstrous Woman
To stop expecting less
To give voice to the voiceless
And make space for all my sisters

I want to shatter your expectations
Build bridges instead of walls
Stop accepting the blame
And do something about it

I want you to make your own God damn sandwich

I want to be a Monstrous Woman
To reclaim the streets and my own body
To live unhindered by guilt
And stop reading those glossy magazines

I want to be out of control
A force to be reckoned with
To disturb the comfortable
And comfort the disturbed

I want the word 'ladylike' to fuck off back to the nineteenth century where it belongs

I want to be a Monstrous Woman
To be angry and ugly
Aggressive and antagonistic
I want you to see that life is not a zero sum game

I want to pull down the scaffolding
And start afresh
To charge the barricades and
Peel back the dead flesh

I want show you how things could be

I want to be a Monstrous Woman
Who's with me?

Sunday, 24 September 2017

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Green Fest, She Speaks and Wordmakers in Bournemouth

Wow, September has just flown by, hasn't it? It seems like only yesterday it was lovely sunny, festival-y August, but now the nights are drawing in, the trees are trying out an alternate colour palette, and there's a distinctly wood-smoky smell in the air.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Plus, I've got an absolute stinker of a cold. (Honestly, I've never seen so much snot!) All of which must mean that Autumn is just around the corner!

This month, I've been super busy with gigs, workshops and exciting new projects! So, let's do a little round up of what's been going down, shall we?

We had a fab night at Crosswords in September, with a fantastic special guest in the form of Stephen Thomas, who wowed us all with a selection of excellent uni-vocalisms from his latest book, Alphabet Spaghetti.

Stephen Thomas - one of the nicest (and best) poets in Nottingham!

I managed to get myself onto the bill at this year's Green Fest – a wonderful sustainable living and vegan food festival in Nottingham. Marvellous local poet Lytisha Tunbridge put together a two-hour smorgasbord of voices on the spoken word stage, and I was excited to be performing alongside such a varied and talented bunch!

The audience didn't want to get too close (which is sensible, as I do bite)

I also helped out with the very ecologically-friendly festival stage by cycling for waaaaay longer than I was comfortable in order to keep the pedal-powered speakers working!

That's my exercise sorted for the month, I think!

Later on the same weekend, I popped down to perform at a fantastic new night in Derby called She Speaks, where I was completely overwhelmed by the talent of all contributors, and the generosity of the hosts, Jo, Em and Aoife, whose ambition to create a safe and supportive space for female and non-binary performers is something that I totally love!

Jo Lewis performing at She Speaks in Derby

I also got to meet Ali Brumfitt, which was very exciting for me, as I've loved their poems from afar for ages. And they recognised me from some of my poems too (which was totally unexpected) so that was a pretty good night all round!

This week, I took a road trip down to Bournemouth to take part in the excellent Wordmakers showcase – which I have to say was one of the friendliest audiences I've experienced for a very long time! Once again, the local performers blew me away, and it was really nice to finally get the chance to see Ash Dickinson perform too.

Ash Dickinson being awesome

Aside from all that poetry gallivanting, I've also been doing a bit of behind the scenes stuff too:

I sat on my first ever funding board panel, making decisions on funding applications for the Arts Council's Creative People and Places initiative in Fenland and Breckland, and I acted as a judge at the Superheroes of Slam regional finals in Leicester.

Both were pretty tricky gigs to be honest – given that you're essentially judging what makes great art, which sometimes feels like a pretty subjective thing.

That being said, I'm glad I got the chance to participate in both experiences, as it felt good to be supporting events and organisations that do brilliant things for the Arts!

It also gave me a real insight into how these things are judged, and that's all good experience for when I finally become a MEGA POET (which is similar to a Mega Zord from Power Rangers, only with more iambic pentameter...)

I guess I know what I'm going to be for Halloween now...

You'll also notice that I've started putting ACTUAL POEMS up on the blog again! This is either exciting or horrifying (depending on your opinion of my poetry). But I for one am pretty ecstatic about having the time to do regular writing sessions again.

How have I managed to wangle more time in my working week, I hear you ask?

Well, I haven't built an H G Wells-style time machine, or invested in a Time Turner – yet. Instead, I've started a BRAND NEW JOB, which means that I now spend three days a week at the office, and two days a week at home focusing on my own poetry projects!

My new job is with UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature, a charity that works to promote, support and publicise literacy, creative writing and poetry in and around Nottingham.

Our city is one of only twenty in the world that have this UNESCO designation, and it's incredible to be part of such a positive force in the local community!

It's been so much fun so far, and I'm really enjoying working with Sandy and Matt in the office, finding out about all the wonderful grass-roots events and projects that make Nottingham such a glorious city for writers and readers.

Logo a-go-go

Even though I'm only working three days per week, I already feel like I'm much busier than I was when I worked full time. A lot of this is down to all the projects that I've been taking on to fill up my Thursdays and Fridays and, while I can't wait to tell you all about them, that will probably have to wait for another day. (Oh, I'm such a tease!)

Next week, the City of Literature team will be announcing the first ever Nottingham Young Poet Laureate, and I honestly don't know how I've managed to keep it a secret this long!

If you want to find out who the winner is, you'll have to wait until Thursday 28th September like everyone else! My lips are sealed!

Keep up to date with all the lovely City of Lit projects via our twitter and facebook pages, or the newly-revamped instagram feed! Keep an eye out, as you might even see me on there occasionally as well!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

POEM - Pirate Limericks

Arrrrrr, Jim-lad! It's International Talk like a Pirate Day (because apparently there's a day for almost everything these days).

So in honour of this salty sea-faring event, I dug out some old piratical limericks for your riotous delectation.

This is always the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Pirates

Remember, in order to read them properly, you need to have a parrot on your shoulder and a flagon of rum at your elbow. (Not that I'm endorsing being drunk in charge of a poem, mind you...)

There once was a pirate called Smee
Who was frightened of drowning at sea.
So he dumped his career
As a fierce buccaneer
And he now runs a small HMV.

The once was a Captain called Jack
Who rowed to Jamaica and back.
When asked why he did it
He slyly admitted,
“I would swim, but I don't have the knack.”

There once was a ship's cook named Silver
Who had a penchant for a pilfer.
After close scrutiny
(And a grand mutiny)
He was sacked, and re-trained as a builder.

There once was a pirate called Bonney
Who was fearsome and daring and brawny.
She slit plenty of throats
While dressed as a bloke,
Which is badass, but not very funny.

Anne Bonney - one of very few women pirates

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

POEM - Roald Dahl Day

Happy Roald Dahl Day everyone!!

This year, the Roald Dahl estate have teamed up with Lego to create Lego versions of six figures from classic Roald Dahl stories - and George from George's Marvellous Medicine is hanging out in Nottingham with us for the next two months! 

It got me thinking about which story was my favourite, and after a conversation with the very marvellous Hannah Radenkova (excellent illustrator and ME/CFS blogger) I remembered that George's Marvellous Medicine always scared me as a child. This was mainly because of the blatant dangerousness of the ingredients that went into the mixture. 

George! Stop being so irresponsible!!

What can I say - I've always been a bit of a worrier!

This week, I got to thinking whether George's potion could stand up to the rigours of modern science and medical ethics. And here's the result...

George takes his Marvellous Medicine to the Research Ethics Committee

George – it is George? –
Thanks for coming today.
Now you know that we're
not here to get in your way...

But we've read your study –
authors Kranky and Dahl –
and we have to confess
It makes no sense at all.

There must be a graph
or a figure we've missed;
do you really propose
this ingredients list?

Deodorant, floor polish,
brown paint and shampoo.
It reads like a breakdown
and not a breakthrough.

Anti-freeze and horseradish,
engine oil and gin?
Forget Boots the Chemist,
this belongs in the bin!

You want this drug licensed?
You want to trademark it?
We can't in good conscience
put this on the market!

It's gross and revolting,
it's totally vile;
has it been peer-reviewed
in a clinical trial?

One Grandma, two chickens;
that is not double-blind!
But you're telling us now that
not one of them died?

The Grandma imploded?
Well that is a shame...
but mishaps can occur
in the medicines game.

You've answered our questions,
please answer one more:
would you care to explain
what it's actually for?

A serum for growing?
That sounds a bit dodgy.
Is this really science
or pure demagogy?

We cannot endorse this.
It just will not suffice.
You can bet that it won't get
approval from NICE.

But... it's cheap and dual-purpose.
(It also kills weed.)
It might be the elixir
the NHS needs!

We haven't seen anything
this strange in ages.
It could be good fun
for the BMJ pages!

And who cares about death-rates
or efficacy?
You'll have a bright future
as George (PhD).

Plus, there's way too much paperwork
if we say no...
Ok, here's your licence,
now quick, off you go!

Not approved by NICE

This post is not sponsored by Lego or by Roald Dahl's estate (although, if either of them wanted to chuck a couple of quid my way, I wouldn't say no...)

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

POEM - Conversations with Sheela Na Gig

Sheela Na Gig is the name given to a group of stone carvings found on churches, castles and other large buildings built in Ireland, the UK and Europe during the Medieval Period. These carvings show naked women holding open their own vulvas. 

That sounds a little odd, doesn't it?

A Sheela Na Gig on Kilpeck church in Herefordshire

Architectural historians can't agree whether Sheela Na Gigs are meant to represent a warming against the evils of lust, or whether they are cerebrations of fertility. Other academics think they might serve as protection against evil (in a similar way to Nazars) or that they are re-cycled stonework depicting much earlier pagan goddess symbols.

Personally, I really like Sheela Na Gigs. This is mostly because they always seem so pleased with themselves, and also because it feels to me like they're celebrating their own womanhood in a very strange but joyfully anarchic way. There's something about them that feels cheekily transgressive to the modern eye, and I very much like that too.

Sheela na Gig at Dunaman in County Limerick

Anyway, here's my sonnet for Sheela Na Gig. I hope you like it!

Conversations with Sheela Na Gig

Corruption is the moral soul's disease
and Sheela serves to offer us the proof.
She crouches, showing all the world her foof
and makes the passers by feel ill-at-ease.
“Put on some granite knickers, if you please!
You cannot dress like that while on our roof!
It's no good looking smug and all aloof
coz even Playboy wouldn't print such sleaze!”

She counters “Do you fear a woman's power?
Does nakedness transgress the rights of man?
Or is the blossom of this fertile flower
the seed from which all present life began?
Your outrage is just twisted poetry;
The shame you feel says more of you than me.”

The Llandrindod Wells Sheela

I feel a bit smug that I managed to rhyme 'proof' with 'foof' - that's a career first for me!

And, if you enjoy a good carving of an open vulva, you can read all about the project to catalogue all the Sheela Na Gigs in the UK here

You can also get hold of the PJ Harvey track Sheela Na Gig here. (I listened to that song a lot while writing this piece!)

Sunday, 20 August 2017

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017

Last week I finally got my bum in gear and made it all the way up to Scotland to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!


In case you've never heard of it before (And if that's the case – where have you been for the last seventy years?!) the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the world's largest arts festival, with over 3,000 shows taking place in over 300 venues across the city throughout the month of August. There's comedy, theatre, dance, circus, cabaret, magic, music and children's shows, but it probably goes without saying that I was there for the spoken word.

I went up for five days, basically to have a look around and see what what all the fuss was about, and also because I haven't had a proper holiday since I was eighteen and I needed a good excuse for a little bit of 'me time' (surrounded by tens of thousands of other people doing the same, naturally).

This is not a pic of me, I just thought it was cool #artiscool

I went up on my own, which had its advantages and disadvantages. The main up-side was that I could do whatever I fancied whenever I pleased – which is nice – and meant that I could go and see all the shows I wanted without being dragged along to anything I didn't fancy.

It also meant I spent a lot of time on my own, which I don't normally do, and all in all it was a pretty positive experience. However, it would have been nice to have a Fringe buddy to hang out with, and when I go next year, I'm definitely going to drag a few friends with me, whether they like it or not!

Also, I am terrible at selfies and shouldn't be in charge of documenting my own holidays...



...I mean?

But what about the shows themselves? Well, I saw some fantastic stuff that really moved me, made me laugh and made me think, and overall I was really impressed with the quality of the shows on the Free Fringe. I did see a couple of things that I didn't enjoy, but that's the joy of the Fringe: there's something for everyone, and not everything is going to float everyone's boat.

Pictured, my boat, not floating

That being said, this is my 100% objective (totally subjective) top five favourite shows that I saw at the Fringe:

Door to Door Poetry by Rowan McCabe – Rowan deftly weaves a tale of positivity, humanity and humility with wit and compassion, focusing on what happens when we choose to interact with strangers on a personal level. Moving and profound, this was definitely my pick of the Fringe!

Two Little Ducks by Matt Abbott – Matt tackles big political themes in his show, taking on immigration, political instability, working-class identity, and Brexit in a show that weaves three narratives into one and makes a forceful argument for mutualcompassion without ever becoming preachy.

My Cloth-Earred Heart by Melanie Branton – Ostensibly about her inability to find a boyfriend, Melanie's show examines societal norms, media representations of love emotional violence, and obsessive behaviour. But despite these heavy topics, the show is funny as well as deeply thought-provoking.

Anxiety and Animal Gifs by Hannah Chutzpah – How can young people ever hope to be happy when there are no decent houses to rent, jobs are few and far between, and it costs more to live in London that it does to bring up a whole herd of baby elephants? That's the bleak question raised in this wryly funny show about how millenials are totally screwed right now. Hannah's on-stage presence is completely charming, and the show was named one of the top queer pics of the Fringe too!

Circled in the Radio Times by John Osborne – John Osborne retells the story of his grandad's life through old copies of the Radio Times found in his shed (in which his favourite shows are circled). John uses this simple premise to tell a heart-warming story about family, life and interpersonal relationships, all through the prism of eighties and nineties TV. This is nostalgia used as a force for good, and I'm not ashamed to say that I cried twice during this one!

I also saw some great stuff from Ben MacPherson, Jimmy Hogg, Rob Auton, Gecko, Dominic Berry, David Lee Morgan, Loud Poets, Raise the Bar and Milk Poetry, plus some very good improv from the folks at Spontaneous Sherlock, and some very cool exhibitions in the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Surgery, and the National Gallery of Scotland, and some incredible views of the city from the top of Calton Hill!

It was a very busy week!

As for me, I managed to wangle a few guest spots at different shows during my time up in Edinburgh. I did a slot at the very marvellous 'That's What She Said' a show organised by the wonderful Paul and Jane from For Books' Sake, which featured Sabrina Mahfouz, alongside poet Lydia Melville, novelist Stella H Birrell and playwright Annie George. The room was completely packed and my set went down really well (I even sold some pamphlets!)

Doing poems at That's What She Said

I also performed with the lovely folk at Allographic: Other Voices (in the most haunted pub in Edinburgh) and She Grrowls, which took place in a weird empty office block behind a pub, which had been converted into venue space for the Fringe. Both shows were excellent fun, and I was particularly impressed by the high quality of performers on the open mic, as well as the colossal talents of Fay Roberts and Carmina Masoliver (who host Allographic and She Grrrowls respectively).

Finally, I joined York-based poet Henry Raby for his show Nerd Punks 3D, which was a fast, funny and politically-charged look at whether punks and nerds could harness their collective power to save the world!

All in all, I'd definitely recommend going up to Edinburgh Fringe if you can – the people are friendly, the shows are entertaining and Edinburgh is just beautiful. I'm already planning my trip for next year!

See you next year, Edinburgh!