Sunday, 13 May 2018

An Estonian Poetry Adventure at Prima Vista Festival

Tere! Kuidas sul täna läheb?

I've just come back from a trip to Estonia, where I was performing as part of the Prima Vista International Literature Festival in Tartu.

Tartu is the second largest city in Estonia and it’s located in the South East of the country. It’s pretty small in comparison to most cities – with a population of just under 100,000 people – but it’s really historically significant and has played a major role in preserving Estonian culture over the years, especially during Estonia’s annexation by Russia in the late twentieth century.

Tartu is also one of twenty-eight UNESCO World Cities of Literature and the city is hugely proud of its literary heritage and cultural identity, with statues of its most famous writers all over the place.


During my stay, I came across monuments to Oskar Luts, Friedebert Tuglas, F.R. Kreutzwald, Kristjan Jaak Peterson and Eduard Vilde (sitting next to Oscar Wild on a bench outside a pub – although this is just artist’s licence, as I don’t think the two of them ever met in real life).

There was also some truly glorious Eighteenth Century neoclassical architecture in the town square.

The majestic-looking town hall (complete with UNESCO flags!)

I was one of nineteen foreign writers and poets performing at Prima Vista during its six-day programme, including writers from Russia, Latvia, Finland, Argentina, the USA, Ireland, Austria, Germany, France, Sweden, Slovenia, Poland, Brazil, Hungary and Italy.

The festival itself had a really relaxed and inclusive atmosphere and it was so nice to be surrounded by so many enthusiastic writers and readers from all corners of the world!

A bit of Slam Poetry on a Wednesday evening

It was also really lovely to listen to poetry being read and performed in other languages, and I particularly enjoyed listening to the young poets participating in the festival’s slam competition. It feels really strange to be watching poetry without being able to understand the words, but it made me really aware of other elements of the performances, like tone of voice, gesture and stage presence. It was really enlightening!

I also learned that the word ‘hashtag’ is the same in English and Estonian. So that’s pretty useful!

I performed as part of a poetry presentation by local Estonian poets called An Atlas of Dreams, alongside Estonian poets Krista Ojasaar, Andra Teede, Silvia Urgas, and Helena Läks, and Estonian singer and musician Lilli-Krõõt Repnau. I think my performance went down pretty well, and although the other poets were all reading in Estonian, I really enjoyed their different styles of performance.

Are those two little men in the background trying to look up my skirt!?

We all hung out after the show and had a chat about poetry, language and the politics of Brexit and – as if to highlight the fact that humanities similarities unite us more than our differences divide us – everyone I spoke to was very keen to talk about the weather too.

And you thought it was just a British preoccupation!

I facilitated a writing workshop on my final day in Tartu, which was held at the head-quarters of the Tartu City of Literature. The building used to be Soviet offices during the Cold War, and it had a sort of beautiful faded glamour that was very pleasing to me.

Extreme poetic concentration!

My workshop was attended by ten participants and we all had great fun thinking about performance and language, and discussing the difficulties of expressing yourself in a language that is not your mother-tongue.

All the participants wrote in English and their work was incredibly thought-provoking. We had a nice mix of ages and abilities in the group (from professional writers to teachers and students to people just starting to write for the first time) and they all seemed to enjoy the session. I certainly learnt a lot!

More poetic concentration - it's a tricky business, this writing poems lark...

It was not the first time that I wished I could speak a second language, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Time to download Duolingo again, methinks…

I also did a few touristy things during my stay, including a visit to the National Museum of Estonia, which was absolutely fantastic and gave me a great overview of the history of the country. I also visited the bizarre but brilliant tagurpidi maja, which means Upside Down House in Estonian.

Go home, House. You are drunk. 

Built as a strange and wonderful tourist attraction, the Upside-Down House is exactly as you would imagine. The house stands on its roof, and visitors enter through one of the upstairs windows. The house is furnished exactly like a very nice three-bedroom family home, only completely upside down!

Walking on the ceiling through the kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedrooms is a truly disorienting experience, but it makes for GREAT Instagram pictures!

I think my face looks tonnes better upside down, you know!

I had the whole place to myself, so I took a lot of photos!

I also had a really lovely conversation with the attendant at tagurpidi maja who, as soon as she heard I was English, felt compelled to tell me how much she enjoyed Midsomer Murders. A woman after my own heart!

I’m really pleased I got the chance to be part of the Prima Vista Festival, and see performances from poets and writers from across the world. Highlights for me included Joelle Taylor (who absolutely stormed it on the Wednesday night) and the great thematic presentation by the City of Literature Team (featuring Nottingham's very own David Belbin reading one of the poems about the future) as well as a great show in Spanish and English by Ignacio Perini.

Joelle Taylor - one of the UK's best living poets

I only wish I could’ve stayed longer, and I can’t wait to visit Estonia again someday!

Saturday, 24 March 2018

A Spanish Poetry Adventure for World Poetry Day

¿Hola, cómo estás? ¡Y feliz Día Mundial de la Poesía!

I've just come back from a week in Spain as part of a UNESCO Cities of Literature exchange between Nottingham and Granada. It was my first ever work-related business trip - and my first time in Spain - and I was totally bowled over by how beautiful Granada was!

I mean, look at this! 

We spent three full days in the city, and it was glorious!

We'd been invited by the team at Granada City of Literature, who were really keen for Georgina Wilding to perform in the city in her capacity of Nottingham's Young Poet Laureate as part of Granada's celebrations for World Poetry Day.

The press conference at City Hall to celebrate World Poetry Day

While we were there, Georgina took part in a press conference with the Mayor of Granada, and performed her poems as part of the Granada Poetry Festival (with a Spanish translation, of course).

She also met the UN Goodwill Ambassador, filmed some interviews for the Granada City of Literature website, performed English poetry in children's bookshops in the city, and we both accidentally ate octopus tentacles!! (This is what happens when you can't read the menus!)

Serving suggestion...

I also did a short performance in Boops bookshop in the city, as part of our visit. The bookshop owners were so kind, and even asked me to recite one or two of my own poems as part of the show!

I didn't go quite so far as performing Shaving Grace because half the audience were under 5s, but I did a few of my less rude pieces, and the mums and dads in the crowd seemed to enjoy them, so that was good!

I recorded an interview at Granada City of Literature too, during which I managed to be half-way articulate (for once), and George and I recorded poems with a Nottingham connection in the splendid surroundings of the Federico Garcia Lorca Building in the city centre.

Getting a poetic grilling from Antonia and Jesús 

It was a whirlwind of a visit, but the folks at Granada City of Lit looked after us so well, and we even had time to check out the Alhambra, which is a beautiful palace built in the thirteenth century by Yusuf I, who was Sultan of Granada back when parts of Andalucía were under Muslim rule.

It was so sunny when we visited the Alhambra!

I loved taking an audio tour around Granada Cathedral as well. It's one of the largest Catholic buildings in Europe, and is huge and imposing and incredible and stuffed full of glorious Renaissance artwork!

In fact, the whole city has a completely fascinating history, with Islamic, Jewish and Catholic cultures all rubbing up against one another in the Mediterranean sunshine to create a place so steeped in history, I ended up feeling a little bit overwhelmed by it all!

Arty (aka poor-quality camera phone) photo of Granada Cathedral's interior

As you can probably tell from my gushing praise, I don't get to travel a lot, but if everywhere is as beautiful as Granada, then I can't wait to explore more of Europe in the near future!

Although, having said that, George and I were less than lucky with our flights...

Our first flight on Sunday was delayed by three hours due to the snow, then cancelled after we'd already spent an hour sitting on the plane on the runway! After getting up at 3am, we were back home by 10am and frantically trying to book alternative flights.

Then, our second flight was scheduled for Monday afternoon, so we took a train to Manchester, then flew across to Granada. Only, there was a big storm in Southern Spain that evening, which meant wicked-bad turbulence and an emergency landing in Malaga, two hours behind schedule. Then it was a two hour coach trip before we finally made it to our Airbnb.

It's a loooooong way down!

On the night before our return flight, I said to George "Well, at least it can't be as bad as the trip down here."


To be fair, we were only delayed by two hours this time - and that was due to French Air Traffic Control Strikes - but it was still a bit of a drag.

These are our 'delayed on the runway again' faces 

Still, it hasn't put me off, and hopefully I'll be going abroad again in a few months' time. Watch this space for more details about that soon!

In the meantime, April is Nottingham Poetry Festival month, so keep your eyes peeled for a blog about all the cool events we've got for you this year!

Moar Poetreeeeeeeeee!

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!