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.


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


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!


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!