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!)