Wednesday, 19 October 2016

WEDNESDAY NIGHT NEWS – Newcastle, Weddings and A Really Big Catch Up

Goodness me! It’s been over a calendar month since my last post – a new record!

Apologies for my prolonged absence; I promise I haven’t been neglecting the writing side of things. In fact, part of the reason I’ve been so quiet is that I’ve been massively busy doing all sorts of new and exciting things. What things, you ask? Well…
  • I did a set at Green Fest in the Nottingham Arboretum (one of my favourite outdoor spaces in the city)
  • I performed at Speech Therapy and had a wonderful time giving some of my more seldom-read poems a good airing
  • I had a supremely terrible gig in a Derby pub theatre, completely dying on my arse – so much so that I could hear the tumbleweed rolling across the stage 
  • I had a marvellous adventure to the Peak District to film some of my poems, alongside a band of DIY Poets, who were doing the same (Plus, there was ice cream!)
  • I went down to the Fens to start the scheming for next year’s Fenland Poet Laureate Awards, which are shaping up to be really exciting indeed
  • I started working with the Nottingham Women’s Cultural Exchange as part of the Write Here: Sanctuary project, which is just such a fantastic project, I could talk about it all day and I promise I'll write a full post about it soon, because it deserves its own one!
  • I recited a few rhymes at House of Verse for the Oxjam takeover in Leicester
  • And I was teamed with the very wonderful Chris McLoughlin at Poetercize (the Poetry Gameshow) at Hockley Hustle AND we managed to win the game and everything!!

This post would be far too long if I spoke about all these things in detail, so instead here are a couple of photos that I hope give you an idea of what I've been up to:

Making a very earnest face at Green Fest 

Getting ready for epic cobblestone-based filming in the Peak District

My Poetercize outfit (what a plonker!)

Spinning some tales at House of Verse

Massive Ice Cream!! (and I ate all of it!)

Upcoming gigs:
This Thursday (20th October) I’m going to be doing a few poems at Stanza at The Exchange in South Shields, and I’m really looking forward to it! It'll be great to experience the spoken word scene up in Newcastle, as it's a city I've never been to before! I can't wait to check it out!

Stanza starts around 7:30pm, and I’ll be the nervous one at the back of the room with no friends – please come and say ‘hi’ if you can!

Then, on Saturday I’ll be up in Richmond in Yorkshire for the wedding of my beautiful friends Catie and Ben. The two of them very kindly asked me to write them a poem for the event, and I’m massively excited/terrified about reading it out during the ceremony!

So. Much. Pressure!

That being said, I’m actually surprised at how much I like the poem that I ended up writing, so hopefully that will come through when I read it out. It’s about stars and space and I’m hoping to record a video version of it soon – keep your eyes peeled for that!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

POEM - Skin

The villanelle is one of my favourite poetic forms - I really like the repetition and the constricted rhyme schemes, and I love how deceptively difficult they are to write as well! 

I've been trying to write a decent villanelle for about five years now. I'm still not sure if I've managed it yet, but I'm pretty happy with this one. I've completely re-written it about three times now, and it's probably still not finished, but I wanted to show it to you anyway. Let me know what you think.


You have no right to tell me what to wear;
and how I dress is no concern of yours
coz I’m in charge of how much skin I bare.

I thrive upon your disapproving stares
and you can't crush me now, so rest assured
you have no right to tell me what to wear.

I'm flattered by how much you seem to care
by pointing out my weaknesses and flaws
but I'm in charge of how much skin I bare.

I know my clothes won't lure some hungry bears –
I'm pretty sure I'm safe to be outdoors.
You have no right to tell me what to wear

A chair that's covered up is still a chair
and un-uphostered flesh still isn't yours.
See, I’m in charge of how much skin I bare

and, if I had to guess, I'd say you're scared
because you can't control me any more.
You have no right to tell me what to wear
coz I’m in charge of how much skin I bare.


Friday, 9 September 2016

FRIDAY NIGHT NEWS - Poetical, Verse Matters, and Hackney Downs

Hello there, stranger!

It seems like it’s been quite a long time since I last updated you on my wild and wonderful adventures. The reasons for this are two-fold: a) I’ve been quite busy and b) I forgot to do my blog last week. What a flighty poet, eh?

Anyway, since last we spoke, I have indulged in the following lyrical exploits:

1. I spent an evening in the company of a lovely group of musicians and spoken word performers at a new open mic event in Nottingham called Poetical. These monthly nights are hosted in this incredible little attic-top eatery called the Alley Cafe – a great intimate space way up in the rafters of one of the buildings just off the market square in the city centre. It’s a vegan and vegetarian cafe, and they do the best chocolate torte I have ever tasted in my life!

The show itself was really good too, with a nice balance between the music and the poetry. I was there under the auspices of DIY Poets, and it was brilliant to see some familiar faces performing in a totally new location. It was great to catch some excellent local musicians’ whose work was new to me too!

In fact, I had such a good night that I didn’t even mind falling in a puddle on the way home!

Angry sky tears

It was a pleasure to perform at Poetical, and I’m hoping to get back there again very soon.

2. Due to a last-minute drop-out, I managed to wangle a slot at Verse Matters, a wonderfully socially-conscious spoken word night in Sheffield. With a hugely diverse line-up, including talks from charities and social organisations, as well as a monthly collection for the local food bank, the whole event had a really positive community feel to it.

Many of the performers read pieces that related to the themes of injustice and social change, and there were great moments of humour, as well as some really searing pathos too.

Of course, my contribution to all this was a few silly poems about genitals. What can I say? At least I’m consistent!

Photo by Vicky at Hive South Yorkshire

 The next Verse Matters is on Thursday 6th October at Moor Theatre Deli, and you can check them out at their website here.

3. Then, last weekend, I went along to That London to take part in the second ever Fourth Wave Feminist Solidarity Festival in Hackney Downs – and it was such a brilliant day!

The event was hosted by an amazing group of fourth wave feminists, who had done some mega organising in order to create a festival that was full to busting with incredible speakers, workshops and activities. While I was there I saw a lecture on the problems faced by factory workers in developing countries; an inspiring talk by Saba Shiraz on the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK; a thought-provoking speech by Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party; and a great talk on menstrual health by Mandu Reid from The Cup Effect.

There were also talks by LGBT+ groups, abortion activists and feminist academics, as well as workshops facilitated by trans rights organisations, self-defence instructors, and gender equality organisations. There were performances from musicians and poets (including Bridget Minamore, who is one of my absolute favourites!) and there was even a feminist book swap shop as well!

Doing some poems at the festival

I was really impressed by the organisation and inclusivity of the event, and it was wonderful to be part of such a positive and enlightening experience too! If you're based in London, why not seek out the Fourth Wave group, and get involved in all the lovely stuff they do?

Also this week, I've had a couple of pieces of good news from writing competitions, which is both unexpected and lovely.

The first piece of good news was that one of my poems is going to be published the Great British Write Off anthology this year, which is really exciting!

#GBWO is quite an unusual competition, because gives poets of all ages and abilities the chance to compete for a prize fund that increases by 50p with each entry the publishing team receive. This means that it’s in everyone’s interest to encourage their friends and relatives to try their luck as well, which is quite a clever way to increase participation if you ask me!

The top one hundred poems will be published in an anthology which comes out next year, and the judges are currently deliberating over their first, second and third place decisions – so keep your fingers crossed for me! We’ll find out the winners in early 2017.

The second piece of good news was that the lovely people at Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis have published another one of my poems, gawd bless ‘em!

The poem they published was a bawdy little number about the Owl and The Pussy Cat getting a bit lairy in a down-market curry house, and I’m really pleased that they liked it enough to put it on their website! You can check out the poem here.

Upcoming gigs:
This Sunday (11th September) I’m going to be doing a few poems at the Nottingham Green Festival, which is taking place in one of my favourite green spaces in the city.

We’ll be on site at the Nottingham Arboretum from 12pm to 6pm, with loads of free live music, outdoor entertainment and activities plus community stalls filled to the brim with refreshments, ethical products and energy-saving technologies.

It’s a grassroots event, with a real community-based spirit, and this year they had a whole tent dedicated to spoken word! There’ll be oodles of poetry goodness, with over four hours of performances starting from 1pm.

I’m on at 1:40pm, and I’ll be hanging round all day to watch the poetry, so hopefully I’ll see some of you there!

Friday, 2 September 2016

POEM - The Fence

I don't usually write a lot of capital P Political poetry. But, as part of my solicitation of subjects for poem commissions, the very lovely Trevor Wright suggested that I write a poem about a fence. It ended up going a bit political. (Or a lot political really.) And a bit anti-Brexit.

And long. Really really long. I reckon it's only a first draft, but let me know what you think.

The Fence
When marking out the land you own
It makes a lot of sense
To purchase and construct yourself
A lovely sturdy fence.

See, hedges are for losers and
A moat is too intense –
Just bite the bullet, grab your tools
And build yourself a fence.

A wall is too conspicuous
And may cause some dissent,
But everyone agrees upon
The merits of a fence!

It keeps the sheep inside the fields.
It’s basic common sense:
We’re guarding all the things we own
By putting up a fence.

It’s simple economic law;
It’s shiny pounds and pence.
We’ll protect what’s rightly ours
By building up our fence.

You see, the world is horrible!
It causes us offence!
And so we’ll hide, all safe inside
The confines of our fence.

This country’s going to the dogs!
It’s not some lame pretence:
We really do feel better when
We’re locked behind our fence.

It’s keeping out the foreigners:
The ones with weird accents.
The scroungers and the loungers
Cannot penetrate our fence.

We're shunning all the terrorists,
The Lefties, and the French.
There's nothing they can do to get
Inside our lovely fence.

Will no one help the Middle Class?
Don’t leave us in suspense!
We do not want to pay our share –
We want to build a fence!

We’re unrelenting nimbyists;
Our fearfulness intense.
And so we seek to rationalise
The building of a fence.

We've lost all our humanity;
Our empathy's been spent
And now we cannot think beyond
The boundaries of our fence.

Compassion's not transactional
But that won't pay the rent.
We just don't want to share our stuff
With those beyond the fence.

It's true that migrants contribute,
But, what with world events,
We'll take our chances, if you please,
Encircled by our fence.

And we can keep our trade, you see,
We'll scoff with confidence:
What's mine is mine, what's yours in mine;
It's not a two way fence.

But when we have our heart attacks
Who'll drive the ambulance?
It's likely to be someone
On the outside of the fence.

And when supplies are running low
Who'll bring us sustenance?
We'll find that we're forgotten
When we're locked inside our fence.

“Compassion's not transactional!”
It's too late to repent.
And they won't hear us sobbing
From the outside of the fence.

And after all, what will they gain
From mounting our defence;
Why go where you're not wanted, right?
Why go inside the fence?

Compassion's not transactional
But sometimes it makes sense
To think about the consequence
Of putting up a fence.

Divide and rule! The Hue and Cry of
Engineered decent;
The only way stop it is
To take away the fence.

When focused on the barricades
We cannot be content
But once it's been destroyed we'll see
The folly of the fence.

There's more to life than bits of land –
Don't follow the consensus.
Remove the panels one by one:
Build bridges out of fences.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

POEM - Museum of Cambridge Poetry Trail

Last week, I mentioned the Poetry Trail that I put together for the Museum of Cambridge.

The trail included six poems written especially for children, and each poem related to one of the objects in the Museum's collection. The poems were displayed around the museum, and visitors had to read them and guess which poems related to which objects.

It was a really fun brief, and I wanted to share a couple of the poems here.

This first one was based on a really strange nineteenth-century clay pipe, which was moulded to look like a chicken. I'm not really sure why it was shaped like a chicken - people in the past were weird, I guess? - anyway, I wrote this poem about the chicken pipe:

Bird's Eye View

I have two eyes, but cannot see.
I'm handsome though, don't you agree?
And here I am, out on display!
My beak and wattle made of clay.

I'm shaped to look just like a bird –
Though not the kind that I'd prefer.
I'm not a swan, instead I'm stricken
To look exactly like a chicken!

I've never squawked though sometimes puffed
And now I've quit – I'm really chuffed!
See, smoking damages your health;
I'm happier up on this shelf.

I'm not a flute or a recorder
(Saying that is out of order!)
So don't believe the noise and hype
I am a different sort of pipe.

What an odd object!

I really enjoyed writing poems that were also riddles, so I also wrote a slightly more cryptic one about a vintage tennis ball cleaner. (I know, there's a lot of weird items in this museum - that is 100% why I like it!)

The Strangest Thing

Bristle-toothed mouth
Half-moon broom

Inside-out hedgehog
Wooden elbow-polisher

Curled-over conker shell
Spider-webbed dimple

Comb-feathered nest
Dent waiting for the egg

Small spiky head-rest
Cupped palm full of eyelashes

A bristle-toothed mouth (Tennis Ball Cleaner)

The museum were really pleased with the Poetry Trail, and I'm really happy with how the poems turned out! In fact, I can definitely see myself doing more of these in the future!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

TUESDAY NIGHT NEWS - Folk East, the Sound Booth and the Museum of Cambridge

Hello again!

It’s August! Which means summer holidays, larking about in pub gardens and generally having a lovely time in the sunshine. Or, at least, that would be the case, if I hadn’t already spent all my annual leave on poetry workshops and gigs earlier in the year! Still, I’ve managed to get out and about a bit too. Here’s a few of the lovely, poetry-based things I’ve been up to this week:

Last Wednesday, I pootled down the A1(M) to the Museum of Cambridge to facilitate some drop-in family poetry workshop as part of the Summer at the Museums series with the University of Cambridge.

The Museum itself is a beautiful place, and it’s one of my favourite local museums in the UK, if only because the collections are treasure-troves of bizarre and fascinating objects documenting the social history of Cambridgeshire – my adopted birth county!

'The Noted Liar' medal in the Museum of Cambridge

I spent a little bit of time at the Museum recently, writing poems about the various artefacts and making a poetry trail for families to follow. I wrote ten poems in all, and six of them were pinned up around the museum for kids to find. The poems were all kind of like riddles, and the kids would then have to guess what each poem was about. It was tricky to write to a brief, and there were a couple of false starts – because writing for children is super hard! – but I’m really happy with what I produced in the end. (I might even share a few of them on this blog, so keep a look out for those!)

But my real challenge was putting together a drop-in poetry session for primary school-aged children!

This is not an age group I’d ever worked with before and I have to admit I usually feel more comfortable working with adults or groups of teenagers. (Particularly teenagers, because I think my mental age hovers around fifteen most of the time anyway!)

Still, nothing ventured nothing gained, right?

So, I put together loads of poetry-based activities, and we set out the tables and waited for the mini-poets to arrive!

The morning drop-in session proved really popular! We had eleven children and five mums, all getting stuck in and using their imaginations to create some great writing!

Cut up words, ready to be made into poems!

The most popular activities were the old photographs (where we had some great stories about Bob the dog, whose photo was taken in 1941) and the cut up words, which led to some fantastic Dadaist poetry! My favourite line was about a skateboarding pizza, but there were loads of really imaginative juxtapositions across the board!

Bob the dog (photo taken in 1941)

The kids also really enjoyed the ‘Guess the Object’ game, and the younger ones had a great time illustrating some poems with their own designs.

One of the children ask me to draw them a mermaid. This was the result:

What the ef is that thing?!

Which I think clearly illustrates the idiom ‘You can't be good at everything’ and the lesser-known sub-idiom ‘but you can be genuinely awful at some things’. Ho hum.

For the afternoon session, we had a much smaller group, consisting of one little girl and her mum. But, far from being awkward, it was great to be able to focus on the exercises with her, and she wrote an excellent acrostic poem about a lion and a unicorn too!

The afore mentioned unicorn and lion

Then, on Friday, I went back down in the sound studio in the Bonington Gallery to record the titles for my poetry soundscape, which will be premi√®ring in the Sound Booth as part of the gallery’s autumn/winter season.

Rob the sound engineer is going to add some music and effects to the tracks, and I’m really looking forward to hearing how it all comes together. Hopefully, it’ll all be ready within the next couple of months, and I’ve even thought of a name for the project, which is really exciting!

I’m going to keep you in suspense for a little bit though, so as not to spoil the big reveal!

On Saturday, I popped down to the Suffolk coast to perform at the Folk East festival, just outside Woodbridge.

Folk East festival!

I absolutely LOVE this festival! Especially the Soapbox stage, which is run by Amy Wragg from Get on the Soapbox and her army of volunteers. Amy fills the bill with new and emerging talent from across East Anglia, and the line-up is 98% local, which is awesome! As well as some really great bands and musicians, Amy also sources home-grown spoken word acts – and that, my friends, is why I was there.

Of course, I’m no longer quite as local as I once was (In fact, I was a seven hour round trip to get to the festival!) but I love the friendly and supportive atmosphere of the Soapbox stage. Plus, it was a great way to catch up with poets and musicians from across the East of England.

It was absolutely wonderful to see Meg Burrows and Christine York perform again. Meg’s lyrical musings really captivated the audience, while Chris’ Punk Rock Granny was witty character poetry at its best. She even got the crowd to toast to ‘dry vaginas’ (a menopausal cocktail) at one point – which had everyone in stitches!

I was also really pleased to see Tom the Zengineer, who I’d never met before, but who completely blew us all away with his incredibly intricate rhymes, full of amazing technical rhythm and more than a little emotional punch too. Oooh, he was good! Definitely check him out if you can!

And I also got to hang out with some lovely people from the Cambridge poetry scene (who I miss desperately, and who filled me in with all the gossip: both poetic and romantic) and have a bizarre but brilliant chat with Dan Clark (who is another excellent poet, and who you should check out here). I also got to listen to a Hurdy-Gurdy playing across a field, and I sold thirteen copies of my pamphlet to festival goers! Not bad for one day’s work!

Seriously though, it was a fantastic festival, and all the more wonderful for being able to share it with so pretty cool people too! Massive thanks to Amy for inviting me along, and thanks as well to anyone who came to see me perform. You’re all very kind to indulge me!

What a busy week!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS - Publications, Crosswords and a New Job

Hello! Apologies for neglecting my blogging duties, but I have been ridiculously busy over the last weeks. And it doesn't look like things are going to slow down as we head into August and September! Here's just a little taste of what I've been up to:

A couple of weeks ago, I had my *first ever* poetry interview!

It was for writer in residence role with Writing East Midlands, working on a project called Write Here: Sanctuary. It's an amazing piece of work in collaboration with a charitable organisation called City of Sanctuary, which runs services for refugees and asylum seekers in the East Midlands. The project itself involved facilitating creative writing workshops for refugee groups in three cities, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, and the team at Writing East Midlands were looking for three Writers in Residence, as well as three Shadow Writers in Residence, in order to facilitate the project.

I applied for the shadow role for Nottingham, and I was completely surprised when I got the call for the interview. The Writing East Midlands office is massively hard to find, but luckily I arrived in Hockley thirty minutes before the interview, and after much anxious traipsing up and down the street, I finally found the right building.

The interview itself went pretty well; I answered all the questions the best that I could and I only said one embarrassing thing during the whole interview - which is pretty good going for me!

Then, while I was waiting to hear back from that interview, I had another poetry interview! (Because, as we all know, poetry jobs are very much like buses.)

Or even a bendy buses!

The second interview was also for a writer in residence position, this time at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. There were two projects available: one working in a local Cheltenham secondary school in conjunction with First Story, and the other working with young people who are unable to attend mainstream education for health reasons. Both of the projects sounded fantastic, and both were year-long commitments, which was really exciting!

I must confess, when I applied for the Cheltenham one, I wasn't quite aware of just how far away Cheltenham was, but nothing ventured nothing gained, am I right?

Cheltenham (source)

Again, I think I gave a pretty good interview (It's easier to do interviews when you actually care about the job that you're being interviewed for - who knew?!) and the interviewers were really interested in my writing, and so passionate about creative writing and public engagement too. They'd also looked me up on the internet and found my youtube channel - filled with rude poems about genitalia - so I wasn't sure if that was going to count in my favour or not!

In the end, I was completely delighted to be chosen for the Write Here: Sanctuary project, working with Nottingham writer Rich Goodson, who will be leading the workshops in Nottingham. We'll be having a training session soon and I'm really looking forward to meeting the writers from Derby and Leicester too!

I didn't get either of the positions in Cheltenham, but they did say they wanted to keep in touch with me, in case any other opportunities turn up, so fingers crossed that something else happens as a result of that meeting as well.

Then, a few days after that, I got an email to say that one of my poems, Liaison, had been chosen for publication on the Spilling Cocoa over Martin Amis website.

I love Spilling Cocoa because they're one of the few poetry publishers that actively encourages the submission of funny poems. They cater to all senses of humour: the silly and the raucous, the satirical and the surreal, the puerile and the highbrow, and I think there's a real gap in the market for this kind of writing, particularly on the poetry side of things.

Anyway, enough of my proselytising! Go and visit their website and see for yourself! (Or check out my poem here.)

Also this week, we had an incredible turn out for Crosswords, the spoken word open mic night that I run in the caves of the Malt Cross in Nottingham. The venue was full to bursting, with an audience of over forty people, including eighteen excellent open mic performers and a really brilliant featured set from Jodie Hannis.

Ridiculously blurry photo, but you get the idea...

Thanks to everyone who came along to perform and to support great quality spoken word! We'll be back in the caves on Wednesday 14th September, when our special guest performer will be Hazel Monaghan, the winner of the Southwell Slam and reigning Bard of Southwell!

Upcoming gigs:
This Wednesday, I'm doing a drop in family poetry workshop at the Museum of Cambridge as part of the Summer at the Museums series with the University of Cambridge. We'll have loads of great games and activities suitable for all ages, and I'm really looking forward to it! If you're free on Wednesday, and you're in the Cambridge area, you should definitely come along. It's £2.50 per child and we'll be at the Museum from 11am to 3pm. Hope to see some of you there!

Packaging display at the Museum of Cambridge

Then, on Saturday 20th August, I'm heading down to Folk East in Suffolk to perform some poems as part of the Soapbox stage at the festival. Hosted by Amy Wragg, the Soapbox stage is one of the most eclectic and inventive stages I've ever performed on, and it's filled to the brim with amazing poets, musicians and bands! I'll be performing during the Words and Verses segment on Saturday evening, sharing the stage with the very wonderful Christine York, Yanny Mac, Nikki Marrone and Tom the Zengineer

The Soapbox Stage at Folk East!

It's going to be a lot of fun and I can't wait to see some of my favourite poets and performers from across East Anglia! If you fancy a bit of Suffolk-based folk (with lashing of spoken word thrown in) tickets are still available for Folk East - check out their website for more detail!

Then, we'll be getting into September, when I have some very exciting bookings in places like Newcastle and Hackney Downs. But I'm going to save those for another day...