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!

Thursday, 3 August 2017


Last weekend, I went on a little adventure down to Wiltshire to do a bit of mud-wallowing, field-dancing, and shouting at strangers about my lady bits.

Just another Saturday afternoon for me tbh…

Ok, perhaps I’ve slightly misconstrued the content of my weekend for comic effect. (I’m such a card!) The actual reason for my epic voyage cross-country was to take advantage of an amazing opportunity to perform at WOMAD Festival 2017!

Impossible to photograph this sign without a million people on it

In case you've never heard of it before, WOMAD is an absolutely beautiful music festival, set within the gorgeous greenery of the Cotswolds in Wiltshire. The festival was set up by old-school rocker Peter Gabriel and his chums in the 1980s, and it provides a platform for loads of amazing artists and performers from across the world, all doing fantastic, genre-bending stuff!

We arrived on Saturday morning, and the festival was already in full swing. The whole site had a really relaxed and friendly vibe, and it was great to see groups of teenagers dancing side by side with festival-goers of a slightly more mature vintage, while families with small children cheerfully toddled through the muddy puddles between the big stages.

The mud was pretty intense though...

It was such a cool experience, and I'm really grateful to Liv Torc for inviting me along to perform! Liv programmed three days’ worth of epic spoken word at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack, and it was a genuine honour to be part of it.

I saw incredible performances from Hannah Teasdale, Anna Freeman, Liv Torc, Maxwell Golden, Rebecca Tantony, Zia Ahmed, Melanie Branton, Jenn Hart, Shagufta Iqbal and Damian O'Vitch, and managed to miss the likes of Chris Redmond, Jonny Fluffypunk, Inua Ellams, Lydia Towsey, Hannah Lowe, Chloe Jacquet, Grace Cohen, Elvis McGonagall and John Hegley!

John Hegley brings all the festival-goers to the yard

I can’t imagine being part of a better group of poets, and it was so lovely to have such a diversity of words and voices on stage. Liv is truly a master events programmer!

The audience were bloody lovely too – very warm and appreciative – and I even managed to sell a pamphlet, so that paid for my dinner on the Sunday night!

Me next to the WOMAD sign (I'm the one dressed as a ghost from pacman, obvs)

Much as I wanted to sit in the poetry tent all weekend, I’d promised my minder (and/or boyfriend) that we’d go see a bit of music as well. I tell you what, it was a good job we did! We managed to catch some post-industrial hardcore – with Tunisian Sufi Trance vocals/percussion – from Ifriqiyya Electrique; some deliciously smooth electronica courtesy of UK producer Rival Consoles; and some intense dance music infused with African sound recordings from 1930s-1970s from South London collective Beating Heart.

We sung a Queen medley in the rain with the Spooky Men’s Corale, and marvelled at the hugely impressive beatboxing skills of Grace Savage and Bellatrix. I also had a look round the Large Hadron Collider in the Physics tent (via a VR heads).

This is what a sense of wonder looks like (similar to gormlessness, as it happens)

Plus, I spent my first ever night in a tent! Talk about a baptism of fire! (Or should that be a baptism of rain?)

As for my performance, I think it went pretty well. There was a good crowd in the tent on Sunday afternoon, and the audience responded well to my stuff, which was very kind of them.

Well, that dress is much shorter than I imagined...

I snuck out into the crowd after my set (to watch Rebecca Tantony’s pitch-perfect performance) and it was really nice to see people enjoying the poetry.

Hope to see you again next year, WOMAD, you magnificent bastard!

Monday, 10 July 2017

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS - Festival Poets

This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to the Ely Folk Festival, to do some poetry workshops as part of the Babylon Arts stand on the festival site.

Festival Times in the sunsheeeeeeiiiiinnne

Alongside Nathan, Anthea, Kate, Nick and Karen, we produced loads of fun activities for families over the weekend, including drawing, creative writing and song writing sessions.

The theme of the festival was 'Water' and 'Rivers' and as the Official Festival Poets, Kate Caoimhe Arthur and I were tasked with creating an Official Festival Poem, crowdsourced from ideas from across the site.

A representation of the Babylon Arts Festival Tent

This meant that we spent a lot of time gathering words from various festival-goers, and asking people about their favourite experiences messing about in the water. It was great fun talking to people and hearing about their adventures, and all the suggestions were really creative. In fact, it was a bit of a mission trying to fit all their beautiful suggestions into one poem!

Luckily, Kate is a whiz with words and after I'd suggested a concept, she got to work, speedily putting together a really wonderful poem!

It's no wonder she won this year's Fenland Poet Laureateship!

Official Festival Poets!

Then, on Sunday morning, we joined the song writing group on stage to share our creative stuff! The song writers had produced not one but two fantastic tunes, based on suggestions from workshop attendees, and the crowds were suitably impressed by their lyrical and musical prowess.

(My personal favourite was rhyming amigo with pinot grigio. Genius!)

The Band performing on stage

The festival poem was really well-received as well, and it was lovely to be able to perform it during the festival itself!

Our audience was slightly odd, mind you...

It was pretty hectic having to source, compile, write and perform a poem all in the space of one weekend, but honestly it was such a lovely experience, and it was also really nice getting to know Kate a little better as well. Hearing more about her plans for her Laureateship, I can't wait to see how her projects evolve over the course of the year!

And now, for the moment of truth; here's our festival poem. Thanks to everyone who contributed a word, a line or an image - we tried to include as many as we could!

The River Cloak

This cloak is made of rivers
Tay stitched to Ouse sewn to Lea
Springs from my shoulders
Spreading across my chest
In whorls and whirlpools
Mirror-still and ever-moving
Reflecting the sky and the seasons

This cloak is made of rivers
Yar sewn to Nene stitched to Tyne, silver splash lapels and
Cold ripples pinned to cuffs and collars
As pond skimmers gather along the hems
And jam-jar sticklebacks fill my pockets
Dappled sunlight glinting
Sparkling like diamonds
Lucid, limpid, shining in the sun

This cloak is made of rivers
The otter drops down its back with a cloop
An egret pierces the surface like a needle
Threading silvery fish glinting like oily ribs of light
Translucent in the black-green stream
Sometimes blue, sometimes black or green

This cloak is made of rivers
There are hidden kingdoms in its lining
Starfish, oysters, crabs and mermaids
Whispering in hushing voices and bubbling along the collar
Children are having fun along its banks
And animals take shelter in its folds.

This cloak is made of rivers
And every stitch is a single drop
And all of these drops are the water of life
Or usquebeagh. Pull it around your shoulders
Feel its gentle silkyness
Knot around your throat and flow
Down your body. Feel it renewing, refreshing
From puddle to estuary and from arm to arm.
Let the hush and swoosh of its floating voices
Bring the smooth calm to our gushing gathering.
Let it flow deep, and clear, and true; this cloak, made of rivers.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS - Poetry New Year’s Resolutions Six-Month Update

I thought it might be fun to do a ‘half-way through the year’ update on my Poetry New Year’s Resolutions – because there’s nothing like reminding everyone that we’re already half-way through 2017 to the relentless march of infinity seem more inevitable, am I right?

Wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey things, eh?

Of course, I jest. Although it *is* a bit bloody terrifying how fast this year is going!

Anyway, here’s how I’m getting on with my poetry-based New Year’s Resolutions for 2017:

Resolution the first: Read at least ten poetry collections or anthologies
I’ve actually managed to read three collections/pamphlets so far this year: “Division Street” by Helen Mort, “Physical” by Andrew McMillan, and “Black Country” by Liz Berry. I realise that these are three REALLY SAFE choices, in that they’re three poets whose collections are really well-regarded, but I absolutely loved all three of them. Next on my list is Ocean Vuong’s “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” and “The Princess Saves Herself in this One” by Amanda Lovelace. I can’t wait to read them both!

How could I not love it with a title like that?

Resolution B: Do at least ten more workshops
So far this year I've done three workshops, with twelve more booked in for the latter part of the year. The workshops I've already done have been really good fun, tackling topics as diverse as humour, folklore, myth, and memory, as well as one wonderful workshop with kids from refugee backgrounds with English as their second language. I really love devising and delivering poetry workshops - it's one of my favourite parts of this poetry lark - so I'm really looking forward to giving some more soon. The next ones I've got booked in are happening at Ely Folk Festival on the 8th and 9th July, so catch us at the Babylon Gallery Arts tent at the festival if you're going along!

Museum of Cambridge Workshop - look at all those concentration faces!

Resolution iii: Go to at least twenty-five new (to me) poetry nights
I've managed to get to fourteen new (to me) poetry nights so far this year, including some fantastic events in places I've never performed before. I've had the opportunity to go to the likes of Leeds, Lincoln and Cardiff, so that's been really lovely to experience! That being said, I'm definitely going to keep up the pace if I want to get to my target!

Performing - in gif form! (Cheers to Fay Roberts for the gif!)

Four: Write a half-hour poetry set/show for performance
I've done absolutely nothing about this one. Nothing. I'm a bit embarrassed about it really... so let's just move on, shall we?

Move along, nothing to see here...

Resolution Cinco: Go to the Edinburgh Fringe!
I know I've talked about it before, but this year I've *finally* put my money where my mouth is and started planning for the Edinburgh Fringe! My AirBnB is booked, my annual leave has been allocated and I've bought a waterproof jacket. I am TOTALLY ready. This year, I am going to get there! I've even got a couple of gigs booked. So organised! I genuinely can't wait! So many exclamation marks!!!  !

Looking good, Edinburgh. Looking good.

Seriously though, it looks like I'm doing ok with my poetry-based resolutions at the moment. Maybe that Josh Judson was right about goal-driven writing? Check out his blog for all the details...