Poembergs

Aldeburgh Tower

The Tower of Maps and Thread (there’s a title)

A few hurrahs: firstly, my poem ‘How to Preserve a Fatberg’ is up today on The Poetry Shedread only if you have a strong stomach, or a weak imagination.

I was also delighted to have been shortlisted in The Bridport Prize this year, and not for the poem I was expecting – hoping said poem (which remains in my ‘Available’ folder) will find a different home, soon…

Another two poems – also somewhat surprising ones – have found their way into the excellent Nine Arches Press journal, Under the Radar, which will be out in early 2019.

And finally, the delightful handmade journal Coast to Coast to Coast will be publishing another poem offering a queer perspective on a very straight ritual, also out in early next year. So quite a run of publications of late. (A Poemberg indeed.)

On Monday, I traipsed back from my home region of East Anglia, having been at Poetry in Aldeburgh – a glorious and exhausting Poemberg in itself. Among my highlights were: a hugly illuminating ten-minute crash course on a Tennyson In Memoriam poem; discovering new and enjoying already-known voices (I came away with a few books, including I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand by Charlotte Whetten & Assembly Lines by Jane Commane); throwing myself into the ecopoetry sessions on Sunday – the very good winning poems in the Gingko Prize for ecopoetry (I especially loved Tuna) and the Hot Mess session. These two sessions really stirred up some ideas about intersectional and queer ecologies, and how important they are for me and my writing. And indeed for our human approaches to both ecology and gender identities. (I’m still processing all of that.)

I had the great privilege of reading at the Queer Studio event on Saturday, alongside Mary Jean Chan, Richard Scott and a fine company of fellow queer poets. It was great fun reading there, and I’m looking forward to getting out performing more often!

On which note, I’ll be doing a feature slot at Lines of the Mind at the Ropewalk pub, Bedminster – hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Varder ‘er at Chelt Lit Fest

Polari Writing with the Palones of Chelt Lit Fest

Polari Writing with the Palones of Chelt Lit Crawl

A busy couple of weeks with Cheltenham Literature Festival workshops, amongst other things…

Last Saturday, I hosted What If You Couldn’t Polari ‘I Love You’? at the Lit Crawl event, a fun & poignant session

We started looking at Polari – a quick intro – a bijou clipette of literary-infused Julian and Sandy, got a bit of conversational chat, mixed it in with the special ‘lingos’ from our lives, then created a group poem of what we do or say, instead of those things we can’t say.

Here’s the resulting poem – shared with the group’s permission, and anonymised anyhow. It’s an activity I’ll try again and know that the ‘deflections’ or alternatives to what we can’t say will be so different every time:

Because I Can’t Say It

I say I’d love to! and I will do that right now!
I get extremely fucking polite. So cold it burns.
I smile and nod in sympathy.
I resort to social niceties.
I say would you like a cup of tea?
I nod my head, grit my teeth, and think of Australia.
I say to other people what I would say to them. Download!
I look at my mate, who I know is thinking the same thing,
we both hold our gaze for just long enough to acknowledge
each other, but not long.
I scowl.
I make up nicknames for them.
I say I will do it!
I sing out loud in the shower.
I say Thank you.
I say I’m sorry.
I say It’s fine (when it’s not).
I give him a book or a poem that says it for me.
I say Oooh…what do you think?
I bring him a coffee, a kiss and a smile.
I crack self-deprecating jokes.
I make puns that say it unnoticed.
I smile and say You’re welcome.
I say Does it make a difference?
I scream into my pillow.

I only wish I’d remembered the marvellous poem Oral English by Sheenagh Pugh – which is the most elegant treatment of Polari, Julian & Sandy, and the wider implications of it all – in one poem. You can find that in Double Bill: Poems Inspired by Popular Culture.

**

Today, I hosted a morning session entitled Red Wheelbarrow Beat Club, where we looked at some ‘Buddhish’ and Buddhist poems, especially relating to objects, pointing-out and the Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg.

We wrote our own versions of pointing-out poems such as The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams, had a go at Ginsberg’s American Sentences (and invented British Sentences), and explored other poems by Buddhist Lama (teacher) Chogyam Trungpa and contemporary Buddhist (amazing) poet, Chase Twichell.

Here are some of my efforts from the session:

Something Chogyam Trungpa-inspired…

A printer is always frustrated

A printer is always frustrated because it stutters.
Paper clips are chipper and grippy.
A laptop is busy going to sleep.
A poet wallows in ink.

A window without frame or glass
And a house without walls or roof
Are inviting in the autumn wind
The ink which the sky provides

Something Wheelbarrow inspired…

The Peg

so much depends
upon

the wooden clothes
peg

nestled with its
siblings

along our washing
line.

A Ginsberg-style 17-syllable non-haiku American Sentence…

Sign reads: 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK. And then: CLOSED.

What was lovely about these poems is how kids could engage with them, too – a session I’ll run again in future.

**

I’m also looking forward to starting work as this year’s writer-facilitator, on the Beyond Words project with the Literature Festival soon, too – and will aim to write some updates about our writing excursions and incursions, into inspiring locations…

Videodrome

A quick hooray for two little videos:

This one, where I make a cameo in my red sparkly jacket, of a Wessex Inspiration Network residential – where I was documenting proceedings in a Zuihitsu style and presenting it back to the young people. An inspiring and great fun couple of days!

Also, due to the remarkable hard work and talent of Helmie Stil – the filmpoem of The Desktop Metaphor continues to be selected and shortlisted for film festivals across Europe…

Desktop Metaphor Official Selections

Kit-Kats & Satellite of Love

Just back from a double whammy of festivals – Green Man and Shambala. Knackered! Both were very splendid happenings indeed.

Will post more fully about those once I’ve recovered –  but in the meantime, here’s a Kit-Kat inspired poem up on Poetry 24 a while back and I forgot to post here.

I’m also performing at Satellite of Love on September 12th at the Greenbank Pub in Easton, Bristol – do come along. Event information is here.

 

 

National Writing Day & A Poem A Week

Today, I’m in Nova Hreod Academy in Swindon for National Writing Day.  This morning we created Recipes for Poetry on a Sunny Day, en masse, with the poetry-generator-coding-machine (which is the young people’s brains, really).

I love bringing in these Surrealist approaches to writing, which smash elements together in peculiar ways and make duly peculiar images.

Soon I’ll be lugging my bag of newspapers and magazines into a found poetry and cut-ups session, which is always good, messy fun and reconnects us with words as things.

Take some time to think unusual thoughts and manifest them in words today! And maybe, every day…

Also, you can listen to my poem ‘Hands’ on the A Poem A Week podcast through the following link. I hope you enjoy it – Happy National Writing Day!

 

 

 

 

Weimar Win & More

Desktop Metaphor EyePhone Still

A still from The Desktop Metaphor

Some good newses to celebrate & projects to update!

Firstly, the filmpoem by Helmie Stil of my piece The Desktop Metaphor won the Jury Award at The Weimar Filmpoetry Festival! There’s more information about that here – and you can watch the piece at that link too. Helmie did a wonderful job with the poem; I love the film’s style and rhythm.


I’ve also just agreed to be the writer-facilitator on the Cheltenham Literature Festival project, Beyond Words. As the project website says:

In any given year, over 600 children In Gloucestershire are unable to access mainstream schooling due to conditions like cancer, eating disorders, epilepsy, and orthopaedic, neurological and respiratory disorders. The majority of these young people are aged between 14 and 16.

Working with the Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service (GHES), Cheltenham Festivals is giving every KS4 student the opportunity to work over time with a writer-in-residence, either in person or via a digital learning platform.

This is a wonderful opportunity to bring together my work with poetry, writing for wellbeing, young people and working in inspirational settings…Including museums, galleries and – hopefully – some which inspire the group about the more-than-human world.  I’ll post up more information later in the year; it’s going to be a wonderful project.


Recently, I’ve been delivering some school workshops for Bristol City Museums Service alongside the Grayson Perry exhibition The Vanity of Small Differenceswhich tell the story of Tim Rakewell though six splendid tapestries. We’ve been exploring taste, class and Stuff, enjoying those details of our material lives which can say so much about us.


Finally, this week I became a Dementia Friend – having been on the training with some fellow artists at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery. This is ahead of workshops we’ll be delivering for those living with dementia, around the paintings there – particularly Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Child, recently acquired by the Museum in collaboration with others.

Oh, there’s also the small matter of an MSc Dissertation to get written…

Further updates a little later in the year.

 

Wellcome & Time to Breathe

reading20room

The splendid Reading Room at the Wellcome Collection

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had some enjoyable time off over midwinter & Christmas. (A strange time; it can feel both restorative and exhausting, all at once.)

As I’m emerging from my festive burrow into the new year, I thought I’d blog about the Exhale and Exchange workshop I was invited to host (by NHS Harefield & Brompton Trust & Imperial College London) at The Wellcome Collection Reading Room last month – and share some of my own writing from that session.

We had a wonderful group of participants, some who planned to attend and some who happened to be in the building and joined in – and the resulting atmosphere was fizzingly creative and communicative.

The intention for the workshop was to use creative writing as a way of exchanging experience, knowledge and stories about breathing and lung health; exploring the potential of language & poetry to offer new ways of looking at breath and breathing.

I used a few approaches in the workshop, including the use of found words (cut out, fridge poetry and from the Reading Room collections) mixing with terms coming up for group members through word-association, mindfulness breathing exercises and discussion.

We took something of an ‘oblique’ angle to warm up our creative & linguistic muscles, using a generated pair of words and an idea from Ginsberg called ‘Eyeball Kick’ *.

I reflected on my arrival in the city:

I Enter The Rumbling Sculpture

of London, its mesh of iron
and its mulch of rain
and voices lost at Paddington
up and down
stairs escalators
an Escher puppet
drinking frothy capital
stuck on the tracks of
L     O     N     D     O     N
rumbling sculpture
with too many artist
information signs
too many
interpretations

We then used a different combination of a breath or airy word alongside a new found word, as a springboard for another piece. For me, this lead to a reflection on the voice, voices and the space in which we were working:

Voices Moulding

All around the Reading Room
are the mouldings of voices
some in plaster of Paris
some in silicone these mouldings
in shapes of sounds
waveforms wobbling
at their edges and jagged
like metal. Voices clinging
to the light fittings
fluttering into the eaves.

How can we contain them?
Should we?
There is no guidebook for how
to capture and store a living
voice. Only how to pickle
the voice, how to tank
and display it.

Any voice which has been
captured & contained
is no longer in the wild
the leaf-strewn moment
with the wild hot winds
of breath where two voices
meet in a clearing
circling each other
not knowing
which will show its
plumage first.

In the second part of the session, we moved to address our breath or lungs quite directly – in the form of a letter or email. We used an activity adapted from poet Rita Dove’s ‘Ten-Minute Spill’, where each writer ‘harvested’ a selection of words that they then had to use in their piece (hopefully pushing the language in interesting directions):

To My Lungs in the New Year

Among your thousands of branches
you capture baubles like suns
among the space in my chest
where twisted flumps & cables entangle,
fly like orangutans among
burgundy branches, wobbling lazily.

All I need is the air that you breathe
on my behalf; a forwarding address,
a lost gift. I wish you buoyancy
through these bleak months. I wish
you the opposite of chloroform,
may you light up like a fairy.

It was a real pleasure to be invited to work in the Wellcome Collection and bring together a group of strangers who were, by the end of the session, connecting so much through writing.

I’m looking forward to all the groups I’ll be running this year, including a course for Poetry School from January 23rd, my ongoing residency with First Story, and hopefully an LGBTQ+ writing for wellbeing and filmpoetry group with St Mungo’s Bristol.

I hope that you have some time to do whatever you find replenishing over these first months of the year – take care of yourself and

remember

to

breathe

 

*Footnote – on ‘Eyeball Kick’ – explanation from Language is a Virus.

Allen Ginsberg, “made an intense study of haiku and the paintings of Paul Cézanne, from which he adapted a concept important to his work, which he called the “Eyeball Kick”. He noticed in viewing Cézanne’s paintings that when the eye moved from one color to a contrasting color, the eye would spasm, or “kick.” Likewise, he discovered that the contrast of two seeming opposites was a common feature in haiku. Ginsberg used this technique in his poetry, putting together two starkly dissimilar images: something weak with something strong, an artifact of high culture with an artifact of low culture, something holy with something unholy. The example Ginsberg most often used was “hydrogen jukebox” (which later became the title of an opera he wrote with Philip Glass). Another example is Ginsberg’s observation on Bob Dylan during Dylan’s hectic and intense 1966 electric-guitar tour, fuelled by a cocktail of amphetamines, opiates, alcohol, and psychedelics, as a “Dexedrine Clown”. The phrases “eyeball kick” and “hydrogen jukebox” both show up in “Howl”, as well as a direct quote from Cézanne: “Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus”.”

Avant-Gardes & Manifestos

From January 23rd, I’ll be hosting a five-week fortnightly course, Letting Your Avant-Garde Down, at Hours here in Bristol.

I’m delighted to be working with The Poetry School, who are a great force for making poetry happen, and bringing people together to discover and delight in the process.

There’s an interview with me here about the course – do come along and we’ll explore together what ‘the avant-garde’ (if there is such a thing) can do for your writing, and what you can bring to the newest, yet-to-be-imagined avant-gardes, too…

Fortuitously, the film Manifesto, starring a chameleonic Cate Blanchett, is out at the moment – I’ll be going to see it next week. Might be a rather marvellous way of introducing oneself to the Ghost of Avant-Gardes Past.

Here’s the trailer:

Winchester Poetry Prize – Winner!

**UPDATED**

Somewhere to Keep the Rain cover

My poem is the winners’ anthology title!

I was double-thrilled & beyond delighted to find out that my poem, Somewhere To Keep The Rain – after Wen Ying-Tsai, Umbrella (1971) won first prize in this year’s Winchester Poetry Prize – judged by (2016 T S Eliot Prize Winner) Sarah Howe.

It’s always an honour to make it to any of the mentions in a competition – not least because, like many poets, I put a lot of time, love and energy into entering and submitting work here, there and everywhere.

I discovered that I’d won the first prize while I was on holiday – via Twitter! After which there might have been a *few too many Maltese cocktails* and a sore head the following day.

Having a poem which feels close to my heart recognised – and by such a renowned poet – is wonderful. It’s a piece which responded to a sculpture previously installed in the Tate Modern’s ‘Tanks’ space – and, for me, gives voice to those days when you feel exposed, raw somehow, and like the volume of the world is turned up to the max.

So it’s not just winning the competition – but that a poem which tries to encapsulate this feeling has been understood, that it has communicated – and now gives its title to the winners’ anthology (see above). I’m looking forward immensely to reading this, cover to cover.

When nods like this (or my National Poetry Competition Second Prize and Rialto Pamphlet shortlisting ealier this year ) come around, it’s good to celebrate and really notice – it gives us fuel to keep going. So: keep going!

As I couldn’t make it to the ceremony, I made this video reading of the poem – I hope you enjoy it: