Friday, 2 March 2018

A Very Busy February

Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry it’s been so long since I last updated you on my comings and goings. But February was just such a busy month!

In fact, here’s a list of all the things I’ve been in the last four weeks:

I took part in a listening party for the #HAUNTS theatre writing project with New Perspectives theatre, and listened to all the wonderful pieces devised by our writing group, which had been performed and recorded by the New Perspectives team. (I can’t wait to share my piece with you – it has a wizard in it! But for now, it’s still Top Secret!

I performed at Verse? Aye! a fantastic charity poetry event in Kidderminster, hosted by the brilliant Matthew Nicholson, with really funny and moving performances from Dominic Berry, Genevieve L Walsh, Fergus McGonigal, Spoz, Nick Lovell, Charley Barnes and Dwane Reads

I led a series of memory workshops with local people for the Enchanted Waters project, gathering stories about people’s experiences with the Nottingham canals and turning them into commissioned poetry that I then performed as part of a series of intimate shows on a narrow boat on the canals themselves.

Doing poems on a boat!
I hosted another cracking Crosswords Open Mic night downstairs in the Malt Cross, with our biggest ever audience, and a wonderful headline set from Lexia Tomlinson too!

I accidentally led four workshops with the University of Nottingham at the Festival of Science and Curiosity, helping kids aged 9-11 to create some top-notch science poetry, then mix up their writing using a cool new programme called Ada’s Poetry Engine (written by the academics at UoN and based on fantastic computing pioneer Ada Lovelace).

I got the chance to perform at Fen Speak in Ely, the spoken word night that I helped found when I was Fenland Poet Laureate back in 2013. It was so brilliant to be back in the Fens and see how much everyone’s writing has improved since I’d been away. It really made me miss the Fenland gang!

Ely Cathedral - I didn't perform there, just near there

Oh, and we had another successful 28 Sonnets Later project, writing a series of 28 sonnets over the 28 days in February. This year, Andy Bennett, Russell J Turner, Olly Watson and I were writing sonnets based on other people’s poems, and I was really pleased with how they turned out! (You can see a selection of them here.)

In March, I’m doing lots of wonderful performances in aid of International Women’s Day, and I’m also going to Spain to perform in Granada for World Poetry Day! It’ll be my first ever performance outside of the UK, and I can’t wait!

If anyone knows how to say “I am a poet” in Spanish, please do let me know! I’m going to need all the help I can get!

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

February Means #28SonnetsLater2018!

February is one of my favourite months of the year. Not because of the weather (which is horrible) or Pancake Day (which **is** brilliant btw) but because it’s 28 Sonnets Later month!

In case you haven’t heard of it before, 28 Sonnets Later is a little project that I run with some lovely poets called Andy Bennett, Russell J Turner, and Olly Watson.

We started in 2012, and every year we give ourselves twenty-eight days to write twenty-eight sonnets on a given topic. In recent years we’ve tried our hand at ekphrastic poetry, European Union-themed poetry, and a collaborative sonnet corona, as well as writing a series of very silly but enjoyable poems based on the fictional (and throughly dysfunctional) town of Buckley Oak.

This year, we decided to take existing poems and use them as inspiration for sonnets. This is both a brilliant idea (because it gives you loads of inspiration) and a terrible idea (because who in their right mind wants to re-write modern classics?! That’s just asking for trouble!).

Anyway, I chose to write my poems based on the work of Hannah Silva, Warsan Shire, Wendy Cope, Maya Angelou, Caroline Bird, Elizabeth Bishop and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and it was really good fun!

Here are the links to my poems. Why not give them a read and let me know what you think?

#2 - Never write your own epitaph (after Percy Bysshe Shelley)
#6 - Incompatible (after Wendy Cope)
#10 - Phenomenal Woman (after Maya Angelou)
#14 - Ampersand (after Caroline Bird)
#18 - Consequences (after Warsan Shire)
#22 - The Path of Least Resistance (after Elizabeth Bishop)
#26 - Breaking the Silence (after Hannah Silva)

The Phenomenal Maya Angelou (Source)

I always really love writing sonnets as part of this project – it cheers me right up during the cold grey February days! And I always seem to get intensely obsessed with iambic pentameter around this time of year too, to the point where I’m floating round the house singing the syllables to myself:

Da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum;
Da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum.

Being a poet is a very strange profession…

Anyway, you can check out the 28 Sonnets Later website to see all the poems we wrote this year or check out our twitter page for more sonnet-y goodness!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Radio Nottingham, Stamford Poetry Swaps and Hit the Ode Birmingham

It's been another busy week for me at Poetry Towers, and most of this week has been taken up by gigs, radio interviews and guided creative meanderings. I'd love to tell you about them all, so let's do that now.

On Tuesday, I snuck out of the office for an hour to have a chat with Alan Clifford on BBC Radio Nottingham, which I was really nervous about! Luckily, Alan and his producer Sara were absolutely lovely! Alan really knows his stuff when it comes to poetry too, so our chat was actually really good fun. I almost forgot I was on the radio!

Excitement face!

We talked about performing in front of big crowds, creativity in relation to wellbeing, and how brilliant the Nottingham spoken word scene is. If you want to take a listen to the show, you can find it here. My bit is just after the three-hour mark, so you can either listen to the whole show, or skip ahead, depending on what you fancy!

Then, on Wednesday night, I scurried down the A1 to Stamford near Peterborough to take part in Poetry Swaps, a really cool little intimate poetry night at the Stamford Arts Centre.

Stamford, looking all medieval and majestic!

It was a really cold and stormy night but the basement bar where the gig took place was full of warm words and fantastic performances.

I was delighted to finally see full set from Clare Currie, the current Peterborough Poet Laureate. Her poems were completely fantastic, exploring womanhood with incisive imagery and a quiet fortitude that show exactly why she won the competition to represent Peterborough in the first place!

I was also pleased to catch a performance by Ron Graves, a poet originally from the North East who is now a stalwart of the local scene. Ron’s a performer who is in complete command of his audience, and the emotional resonance in his writing, whether funny or sad, universal or deeply personal, is very impressive indeed.

The Poetry Swaps event was great fun, and a really nice way to spend a cold winter’s evening, so massive thanks to Karen and to Bill for inviting me along!

The whole of Stamford looks like it was built of church and castle - v nice

On Friday, I spent the morning in Notts city centre, road-testing a brand-new project by the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham.

The project is called Notts Listening, and is a collaboration between the Mixed Reality Lab and the All Your Bass Videogame Music Festival. It’s an exploratory audio walk that guides listeners around the city using GPS technology.

The music plays automatically, and changes as you move around the streets, and short, spoken stories are triggered as you pass certain landmarks.

Including the Left Lion in Market Square (source)

I spent an hour or so wandering around listening to the music and soaking up the stories, which we all written by members of the University’s creative writing society, and it was a really fun experience.

I especially loved the way the combination of music and spoken word made me see the city in a new light, and it was a lovely way to explore on a frosty Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the walk was only available during the Videogame music festival, which has just finished, but I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for more innovative collaborations from the University!

Nottingham Young Poet Laureate Georgina Wilding!

Finally, I trundled down to Birmingham on Friday night to watch the very lovely Georgina Wilding (Nottingham’s first ever Young Poet Laureate!) perform a headline set at Hit the Ode in Birmingham.

Organised by the hugely-respected national spoken word organisation Apples and Snakes, Hit the Ode is one of Birmingham’s longest-running poetry nights, and the standard of performances was excellent! As well as a top-notch open mic, they had three massive headlines: Georgina, Khairani Barokka and Mark Grist!

Mark Grist; sharp-suited poet

George gave a cracking performance, and Khairani Barokka was such a charming presence on stage that I think everyone in the audience fell a little bit in love with her. Mark’s performance was fab, as always, and it was so nice to see him do some of my favourites – including the one about his dog which is one of my favourite poems ever!

I had a little go on the open mic and was really pleased that people seemed to like my stuff – I even sold a pamphlet (not something that normally happens on an open mic!)

Next week, I’m going to be mostly scheming for upcoming projects, but I’ll tell you more about those when the time comes… (I’m such a tease!)

In the meantime, here is a picture of the Rusty Spotted Cat, who lives in Sri Lanka, as is the world’s smallest type of cat. He is 200 times smaller than a fully-grown tiger, and if you could get near enough to hold him, he would fit in the palm of your hand. Aw!

Omigod! Can I keep him?

Saturday, 20 January 2018

POEM - Colonel-in-Chief (of my heart)

Colonel-in-Chief Sir Nils Olav is a King Penguin living at Edinburgh Zoo. He is the honorary Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Royal Guard, and in 2008 he was visited by the regiment and awarded a knighthood. He is - without doubt - my favourite military figure, and I wrote a terza rima poem about him a couple of years ago. On #PenguinAwarenessDay it seemed appropriate to re-post it. I hope you like it!

Colonel-in-Chief (of my Heart)

Nils Olav is a fowl of fair repute –
The only one to serve the Royal Guards!
And, though he can’t parade or give salute,

Norwegian soldiers hold him in their hearts.
He can’t give orders or convey commands,
He knows no combat skills or martial arts,

He cannot load a gun (he has no hands),
But when I think of him, my feelings stir!
On principle and purity, he stands!

His name is Nils, but you can call him ‘Sir’.

Sir Nils inspects the troops 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Hammer & Tongue and a Mini Scottish Tour

This week I’ve travelled the length of the country for various poetry-based adventures; from London to Glasgow to Aberdeen and back again!

Honestly, I’ve frequented so many train platforms and eaten at so many motorway service stations this week, I reckon I’m about 60% Ginsters right now.

The glamour! (Source)

My 2018 poetry Odyssey started on Saturday, when I swooped (swope?) down to London town to take part in the National Final of the Hammer and Tongue Slam.

Hammer and Tongue is the UK’s biggest and most diverse spoken word poetry competition, and previous winners include huge poetry stars like Solomon O.B, Leyla Josephine, Vanessa Kisuule, Stephen Morrison Burke and Adam Kammerling.

Oh, and they also hold the finals in the ROYAL ALBERT HALL, so you know, no pressure or anything!

The Venue

This year, forty-one poets from across the country competed, all vying for the coveted title of UK Slam Champion, and the talent and diversity of poetry on display was completely breath-taking!

The winner, Usaama Minhas, is a huge creative force, a monumentally great poet and a lovely chap too, so the judges were definitely right to crown him champion for 2018.

For my part, I managed to get through to the third round of the competition – waaaaay further than I ever imagined – and I was genuinely thrilled. I suspect the support of my lovely friends Fi, Carla and Cat was the main catalyst in propelling me through the competition. (Thanks ladies!)

On stage making weird hand gestures: standard

had a great time catching up with old poetry friends, cheering on the performers that I love and discovering new voices that made me laugh, cry, whoop and cheer.

But next year, I’m coming back, and this time, I’m going to win!

What a poser!

Then, on Tuesday, I toddled up to Scotland to do some poetry at Inn Deep, a cosy little bar in Glasgow’s fashionable West End. I met the very lovely and talented Shaun Moore, who took me under his wing and got me a slot at the microphone. The event was crowded, with a really warm and friendly atmosphere, and a great mix of performers too.

Glaswegians have this excellent way of talking about heavy subject matter with a wry wit that is completely beguiling, and although the poets who performed were all very different, it was this underlying sense of playfulness that really stood out to me. Lots of sweary poems too, which I am very much in favour of!

Then, on Wednesday, I drove even further north to Aberdeen for my first feature art of the year, at an event called Speakin’ Weird, a relatively new night in the city. Hosted by the irrepressible Sparklechops (one-time Nottingham-based poet Orla Shortall) Speakin’ Weird had a really nice friendly vibe, with a young audience and a diverse range of performances on the open mic.

My set went down really well, and I was pleased to have the time to talk to loads of people after the event too. It was really nice to talk to performers about their open mic poems and chat the audience members about poetry and the scene in Aberdeen. I also managed to sell eighteen poetry pamphlets during the night – a new world record (for me anyway).

Performing in Aberdeen (Image: Julian Maunder, Spud 'n' Duck Photography)

Speakin’ Weird was a joyful event, and definitely the best poetry night I’ve been to in a while. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re ever up in Aberdeen. (Although the eight-hour drive home was not quite so wonderful!)

Next week I’ll be on the radio talking to presenter Alan Clifford about my poetry (catch us on BBC Radio Nottingham on Tuesday 16th January from 2:30pm) and I’ll also be doing a featured set at Poetry Swaps at the Stamford Arts Centre in Lincolnshire on Wednesday 17th Jan. Finally, I’m going to be supporting Nottingham’s Young Poet Laureate, Georgina Wilding, for her feature performance at Hit the Ode in Birmingham – and it’s going to be brilliant!

At some point, I’ll also need to finish my tax return, but shhh!

Monday, 1 January 2018

Poetry New Year's Resolutions 2018

So, we survived Christmas and New Year's Eve 2017. Well done everyone!

Now it's time to get all reflective and think about self-improvement: time for Poetry New Year's Resolutions!

I am notoriously bad at keeping New Year's Resolutions. But, in recent years I've devised a cunning plan for making sure I stick to at least fifty percent of my resolutions. The plan is this: just make loads and loads and LOADS of resolutions! So many that you're bound to hit some of them, just by simply existing. I call this the 'scatter-gun approach' and it's super effective.

People still care about Pokemon, right?

Leanne's New Year’s Resolutions - 2017
1. Read at least ten poetry collections, anthologies or zines
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

So how did I get on?

Well, I read exactly ten poetry collections/anthologies/zines this year including: Division Street by Helen Mort, Physical by Andrew MacMillan, Amanda Lovelace's The princess saves herself in this one, Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur,  The Venus Papers by Lydia Towsey, Sophie Sparham's Mind the GapStrange Keys by Ash Dickinson, the Mud Press Christmas Zine 2, the Small Acts of Kindness anthology and the Haiku to Fuck to anthology too.

I facilitated eleven workshops this year, including some lovely projects with Writing East Midlands, Nottingham City Council and the Museum of Cambridge. I also really enjoyed doing some after-school creative writing workshops with young people this year, but I'd really like to extend this and work more in schools in 2018. (I'm sending out emails as well speak!)

In terms of performance, I did thirty-eight separate poetry gigs this year (three more than last year's total). Twenty-eight of those thirty-eight were completely new to me, which gives me a 73% New Gig Rate - two percentage points higher than last year!

One day, I will make a graph of this...

Cor, look at those lovely poetry statistics!

But, most importantly of all, I FINALLY made it to the Edinburgh Fringe and it was BRILLIANT!

Edinburgh, you gorgeous bastard!!

So that’s four out of five resolutions completed, which is pretty decent, all things considered.

However, I still didn't manage to put together that elusive poetry show in 2017. BUT there is a *very exciting project* on the horizon for 2018 so, if the funding comes through, then hopefully I'll have a bit more time and space to do some serious writing! Watch this space for further details coming soon!

And my new resolutions for this year?

Leanne's New Year’s Resolutions - 2018
1. Read at least twenty poetry collections or anthologies
2. Do at least ten more creative writing workshops
3. Go to at least thirty new (to me) poetry nights
4. Compete in at least five poetry slams
5. Put at least ten new poetry videos up on my youtube channel

Wish me luck, and happy poeting for 2018 everyone!

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!