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.


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!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Poetry NYE Resolutions

For the last couple of years I’ve been setting myself a few poetry New Year’s Resolutions – because there’s nothing like setting goals and making lists to make a person feel chronically inadequate!

I’m joking. Actually, the reason I set myself a couple of resolutions is so I can forget about them by 15th January, then remember them hurriedly on 31st December and laugh about how many I’ve utterly failed to do.

So let’s see how I got on this year!

I had four new year’s resolutions for 2016:
1. See at least six full-length spoken word shows
2. Do at least ten workshops
3. Go to at least thirty new (to me) poetry nights
4. Go to the Edinburgh Fringe

So how did I get on? Well, in 2016 I saw five spoken word shows: Ben Norris, Mulletproof Poet, Luke Wright, Andy Szpuk and Michelle Mother Hubbard, plus a revue by the Mouthy Poets here in Nottingham. I also saw a bit of theatre for the first time in ages, courtesy of the Pussy Patrons, as well as my first ever dance show, curated by Tight Theatre.

I also managed to facilitate no less than sixteen workshops this year, which was much better than I expected! Twelve of these were as part of the Write Here Sanctuary Refugee project in Nottingham, while the others were at Kimbolton School in Cambridgeshire and Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in East London, as well as a workshop with primary-school aged children at the Museum of Cambridge, and another with adults as part of the Words for Walls Project with the University of Nottingham. This means that I actually managed to work with a really diverse number of groups this year, including my first session with younger kids, and my first group of participants using English as a second language. Hoorah!

I also performed at thirty-five separate poetry gigs this year. Twenty-five of those thirty-five gigs were completely new to me, and while that’s definitely below my target of thirty, it does mean that I had a whopping 71% new gig rate, which is seven percentage points higher than last year!

Mmm, poetry statistics!

So that’s probably two and a half resolutions completed, which isn’t bad going really. As I’m sure you’re already aware, I didn’t make it to the Edinburgh Fringe again this year, which was a real shame because I really really really wanted to go!

But it definitely gives me something to aim for in 2017, so it can’t be all bad!

I've finally settled on five resolutions for 2017:

1. Read at least ten poetry collections or anthologies
2. Do at least ten more workshops
3. Go to at least twenty-five new (to me) poetry nights
4. Write a half-hour poetry set/show for performance
5. Go to the Edinburgh Fringe!

Wish me luck!

So Kawaii!