I’m busy preparing for the 2nd part of January and I want to share some of the happiness so far. We all need these silver linings at the moment.
Last year Nik Perring was the Writer in Residence for Sheffield’s Year of Reading. You can find out about the multitude of exciting projects he was involved in by clicking the link. Sheffield Libraries have been incredibly proactive throughout all 3 Lockdowns offering a wide range of workshops, interviews and groups.
I was fortunate enough to participate in several of Nik’s Autumn workshops and then two larger projects at the end of the year. On the 7th January one of the outcomes was released on the web for you all to enjoy and this is the first chance I’ve had to share it!
Here’s Nik with the backstory:
Many of us will be haunted by the ghosts of 2020 – the strangest of years. We’re giving you the opportunity, the voice, and the audience to put them to bed.
Working with the BBC (The Novels That Shaped Our World) Dear 2021, The Start of It takes the spirit of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and challenges you to exorcise the ghosts of 2020 by writing a letter to Donald Trump, the universe, Santa, the future – to someone or everyone, telling us what you want to change and the whys and hows.
During this two-part workshop, Sheffield Year of Reading Writer in Residence Nik Perring, will show you the best ways of making your ideas, and desires, into brilliant poems, letters, or stories – and then he’ll show you how to shape them into pieces good enough to send up the chimney/out to the world.
The workshops were in November, many of our finished pieces were collated into a special book which came out in December and lots of people who took part in the workshops recorded their work which was broadcast via Sheffield Library Service’s Digital platform 10 days ago!
If I thought April had been a whirlwind, I wasn’t quite buckled in for May!
I was enjoying off screen time in the garden, had already taken photos of the blossom and enjoyed the early Spring flowers.
You know it is easy to misremember how it was? I closed the last flashback with the realisation I had not travelled more than 1.5 miles from my home – actually my perimeter was a lot smaller in April. I hadn’t started walking outside of my home and the supermarket is not that far away so thinking back, the frame of my life was caught in a circle of 3 roads, just one small block of life!
This was the month it expanded to 1.5 miles.
I do remember I stayed in, if I wasn’t in the garden I was in the house. Most of the street were out in the back gardens, enjoying the sun, building new sheds, cabins, garden furniture, slides and swings whilst I was indoors fighting the good fight for Furlough or burying my head in the sand of a writing world that became my Narnia.
May started with more festivals: Avon Book Festival, Stay at Home Fringe Festival (organised by the Students/graduates of Glasgow Uni), The Urban Tree Festival and of course HAY (which I managed to blog in a timely fashion). Huge gratitude to everyone who has worked so hard to give creatives access to platforms and festivals at this time.
Big gratitude to Julia Webb for the prompt/course she ran this month. To Kim Moore for braving the online world of workshops and furthering my year of learning. To Carys Hannah who started a Golden Girls Watch Party, which reminded us what laughter is and made us all hope we get to grow old.
To Anna Saunders and the team at Cheltenham Poetry Festival for delivering a feast of poetic pleasure with numerous events and a great line up of poets. To Seren for creating a series of reading events, AWP for giving us a night with Joy Harjo (Poet Laureate of USA). For the universe for keeping my neighbour safe the morning she climbed up on our conservatory roof to clean and I couldn’t stop her!
Thanks to Helen Ivory & Martin Figura for events at the Butchery and to Jinny Fisher for her Poetry Pram Party. Thanks to Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press for videos, live readings and Book Launches, to Emma Wright at the Emma Press for Book Launches and webinar readings/Q&A. To Phillipa Slinger and Chloe Garner who moved Ledbury Poetry Festival and the Salons online.
This month I also enjoyed the Saboteur Awards and Book Launches for The Unmapped Woman by Abegail Morley (Nine Arches Press), Dorothy by Briony Hughes (Broken Sleep Books), Apple Fallen by Olga Dermott-Bond (Against the Grain).
And I finally realised online events meant we could travel after all… and travel I did, first stop back to Australia. I headed back to Perth and Freo. Thanks to all at VoiceBox. I reunited with some of the Perth crew at Zoomouth, which was brilliant!
I finished the 6 weeks Writing to Buoy Us course with Cath Drake and writers from Europe and Australia. I started a Hybrid Experimental course with Tawnya Renellehttps://tawnyaselenerenelle.com/ , who I also met through the Stay at Home Fringe Festival. And who also needs a huge shout out of gratitude. I was glad to help where I could at the beginning and have loved watching the take-off!
I completed work on the animations for Poetry Renewed with Elephant’s Footprint and wrote lots in journal form and a few poems. Covid had crept into the writing and I was attempting to not write about it in the beginning. And the BIG conservation started about the artists place in all this, whether it is our job or not to almanac the times (which is what a lot of writers/artists do). I believe most of us do, but also agreed that writing books about it probably wouldn’t even make it to the slush pile, of course I am sure there will be some, there already are. But I’m still processing last year and things which happened at the beginning of this one (pre-Covid).
May was the month: I realised my back can’t manage Yoga and gracefully I saluted the sun for one last time, started to walk in nature, used my walking stick for the last time (hadn’t needed it for 3 months), I blamed the yoga but looking at this it was more likely all that sitting at the desk! It marked the milestone of my first submission in 5 months! I have been very slow to get back on that horse!
Worcester SpeakEasy Christmas Special – more open mics than usual and the fabulous Raine Geoghegan is our feature for the night! Come and listen/watch for free (Christmas jumpers/head-gear/ hats optional)!
April was Napowrimo and those of you who follow this blog will know I have done it every year since I discovered it existed (2014), this year – for the first time ever – I was home every day of the prompts and managed it without falling behind. As is tradition, by the end I was left with about 5 decent poems and another 5 to work with. Lots of new notes and scribbles, I did write 32 poems over the month but some are no more than a warm up exercise, you can whittle on after April and collect yourself a good batch of 30 decent poems, but as with all workshops some prompts will speak louder than others. There were some areas I continued to research and develop and other scrap poems I abandoned. Nothing wasted though.
Napowrimo was also the last time I was properly active on the blog. The Stay at Home Lit Festival continued (it was a glorious 2 weeks). I continued to enjoy events which moved online more from the PPP (Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists) team, as another of their brilliant nights Yes We Cant happened online and PASTA (usually at the Wolverhampton Arena Theatre). 42, Worcester and Run My Tongue were other open mic events I joined.
I signed up to Caleb Parkin‘s Napo group and enjoyed weekly sessions with other poets (some of whom I knew) doing Napo. These groups were great fun. Huge gratitude to Caleb for creating such a pleasant space to create from.
April was the start of crazy, for me it was a coping mechanism and also I was coming from that post-book release-writing-slump https://ninalewispoet.wordpress.com/books/, which followed on the back of the medicated break from writing, which I was convinced (at the time), had broken the camel’s back, so a certain amount of my packed scheduling was a liberation, a dance with words. It was also a sure fire way to bury my thoughts from what was really happening for a few hours most days. I was also trying to get over having to cancel all my real life bookings for a 2nd year running.
I read a lot, every writer should. But I have to say 2020 has opened me to more new writing and new to me poets than any year so far. So readily accessible at a touch of a button. The whole world at my writing desk.
Sarah L. Dixon needs another shout out of gratitude, she started to run workshops online, which were always fun and successful for me – as in I would always have a nearly completed poem by the end of it – I may have even submitted some of these out to the world and I have barely submitted anything anywhere since 2018.
A big shout out of gratitude to Zelda Chappel too – who it has been a pleasure to reconnect with. She offered a series of wonderful prompts which in the beginning refreshed my love for this gift of writing and over the weeks gave space for some different writing.
A big shout out to Mab Jones too who created Lockdown Writers’ Club and provided us all with in depth prompts and created a creative community.
I went to the book launch of Play – by C. S Barnes, The Shaking City by Cath Drake and Mutton Rolls by Arji Manuelpillai.
I started doing Yoga with Allison Maxwell who is another gratitude shout out, I helped people and artists learn how to use Zoom effectively, we celebrated the first birthdays online, never expecting we would still be doing the same by the end of the year! I started doing my pilates classes at home.
I finally joined INSTA as there were poets I admire doing things on this platform. My INSTA account is still nothing to shout about and I probably won’t be joining the INSTA Poetry movement anytime soon, but it is a great platform for short video/ workshops and has been fun exploring this year.
I took opportunities offered by Room 204 on developing characters, huge thanks to Stephanie Hatton for letting us be your guinea pigs, I hope the roll out went well. I enjoyed the National Ballet online, a workshop with The Poetry Business and started recording video performances for events. And I discovered the Cuirt Festival of Literature AND more importantly an Irish poet I had read in my teens, Michael Gorman – it was like being reunited with an old friend.
I also had the pleasure of watching Kei Miller and Carolyn Forché with Poets House and Roger Robinson with Writing East Midlands, all poets I have read and admire. I’m lucky enough to have seen Kei and Roger in action several times. These three poets started the pack of recurring poets who became a big part of my lockdown.
I was also working hard completing an animation commission from Elephant’s Footprint for the Arts Council funded ‘Poetry Renewed Project’. I wrote a poem for Rick Sanders PoARTry/ the digital version of his project. My ekphrastic poetry response was based on an artwork created by Alan Glover. I watched most deadlines zoom past and wrote covid and non-covid journals.
It was an action packed month which taught me: I was happy we’d had haircuts the week before the news of Lockdown, the forever-wanted GHDs probably weren’t going to be the most used Christmas present, that I was unlikely to run out of notebooks for a while, that the world is trying to hold itself together, that a smile goes a long way, that facetime and online platforms are a great way to stay connected, what it feels like to spend 5 weeks travelling no more than 1.5 miles from your home.
Yes We Cant was back after a summer break. It marks my final booking this side of National Poetry Day – I guess I have to get proactive. I have never gone in search of gigs before, but after 4 years I may have to.
There were new t-shirts, bags of cooking apples, bottles of Rhubarb and Custard cider and lots of poems!
It was a brilliant night and worth every minute of motorway nightmare (roadworks). The night was MCed by Steve Pottinger & Dave Pitt, there were lots of open mic and a good mix of poets, one first timer who nervously took to the stage. She was fab and also won the Poetry Competition.
Yes We Cant is always a fantastic night. It takes place upstairs at The Pretty Bricks Pub in a room which is always hot with energy & words.
PPP – Steve Pottinger, Dave Pitt and Emma Purshouse (reading the winning poem).
The exceptional performers on the Open Mic.
Yes We Cant always have a Headliner and a Half-ender. I was delighted when Emma asked me to be the September Half-ender and it also guaranteed I used my return ticket from Australia. I did a set from Fragile Houses, a couple of new ones (including one I wrote during Aaron Lee’s Workshop in Perth) and an old, old one.
It was lovely to chat to people in the interval and I think the mix of poems I chose from humorous to heart-tugging went down well.
Rob Barratt finished the night with an incredible set. He was entertaining and even got the room singing a selection of popular songs, no easy feat… but of course Walsall was up for it! I love watching performers I have not have the pleasure of meeting before and this was no exception.
I now have Rob’s book to re-read the poems he performed at a powerful pace, at leisure and he really hit the nail on the head with his poem about Education and ‘Distressed’.
Here’s an interview with Dave & Rob.
Rob Barratt who was a bag of awesome wrapped in a bow of wonder. – Dave Pitt
On Friday night I had hoped to make it to Birmingham Waterstones for the Verve Poetry Press Book Launch of Leon Priestnall and Nafeesa Hamid’s Debut collections.
Sadly I was up to my eyeballs with assessment data/report writing and test marking at work and by the time 6 PM arrived I was asleep on the settee. I have heard it was an incredible night and I was looking forward to reconnecting with the city and seeing these two perform.
Leon Priestnall is something quite rare on the Spoken Word circuit – a romantic, a lost soul, with so few of the right answers and so many of the wrong ones. His poems are full of questions, not solutions, or even a step further back from that – are asking the question of what questions to ask. In his work, he isn’t setting himself up as any kind of answer – he is as wrong as he is right, behaves badly as often as correctly. Often too confused to be able to move – beyond lighting another cigarette, taking another drink, running for the door – or speak. Often trapped inside the circle of his thoughts, which are a riot of possibilities and recriminations, what-ifs and why-nots.
Learning that your mind and body have been taken hostage is one thing. Learning how to take them back is another. What if those that are returned are different to the ones that were lost?
Besharam – Nafeesa Hamid’s glorious debut collection – asks this and many other questions. When does a girl become a woman? When does her world allow her to become a woman? And what kind of woman should she be? The answers aren’t readily forthcoming.
42 is a regular monthly feature of the Worcester calendar, featuring prose, poetry and everything between. Currently run by Polly Stretton and hosted by her and a range of Guest MCs, it is normally held on the last Wednesday of the month at Drummonds.
The festival special last year was one of the most popular nights – featuring The Antipoet. They are back again for 2018 and we are delighted.
The theme for open mic sets was Bewitched Worcestershire Inn and despite a tiny bit of research after last night’s event at the Museum, I did not have a chance to pen a poem in advance. So after a whistle stop agenda between work and the gig I managed some scribbles. One of the scribbles turned out okay.
The Antipoet performance was stupendous (as expected)! They entertained us for over an hour and they were also there for the Launch of their book! Yes, a BOOK this year rather than an album. A book with 2 FREE DVDs.
If you have never caught their show, I urge you to do so – they are phenomenal!
Due to Sunday Service on the trains I wasn’t able to make it for Brum Stanza – the first event of the day. I was in time for my first workshop with the ever-amazing heroine of mine Pascale Petit. A most enjoyable and productive workshop.
Sadly it clashed with Sabrina’s Masterclass which I would have liked to have done also. Sabrina had rave reviews too.
After the workshop I managed to catch Nymphs & Thugs – which was loud, raucous and fun, at times hard hitting. Salena Godden, Matt Abbott, Maria Ferguson and Jamie Thrasivoulou; four vital performers all rattling with the sense of urgency that makes the UK spoken word scene so exciting at present. Nymphs & Thugs is an independent spoken word record label formed in 2015 as an imprint on Heist Or Hit. They aim to champion the UK’s most vital spoken word poets.
The first round was superb – it got a little hard for me to concentrate on everyone’s 2nd sets (surviving on just 4 hours sleep again and with post workshop brain), I ducked out just before the end of the final set to get caffeinated and give myself a breather before my next workshop with Liz Berry.
Cabin fever had set in and I found myself outside of Waterstones for a quick stretch of the legs and fresh air. I really wanted a cosy chair and quiet corner for 10 mins R & R but during Verve that is not likely. Instead I trudged back up the stairs and went to enjoy the Lunar podcast with Roy McFarlane before heading upstairs for a workshop with Liz Berry.
I went straight from Berry delightfully playful workshop on Tenderness, to the tail end of the Stand Up Poetry Reunion catching almost all of Luke Wright’s set but sadly none of Ross Sutherland’s.
Then I had a very quick break to freshen up before The festival Poetry Finale with Liz Berry, Nick Makoha (seen at Ledbury) and Nuar Alisdar chaired by Jonathan Davidson. It was exceptional.
Then Local Legends which was a great concept and one I hope they do again. Sadly I missed Luke Kennard and Bohdan Piasecki in their Headline slots, Sunday transport and the fact that I had hit the wall. I still wouldn’t be home much before Midnight and needed to drive safely from the station.
It was a tough call, but I have seen them before and will see them again. Not one to leave a party early usually… but when that party has been going for 35 hours… even the sweet shop couldn’t save me!
With readings from Romalyn Ante, Roz Goddard, Liz Berry and Matt Black.
And a book signing WITH cake!
Introductions to Jane’s Launch by David Morley.
The first evening event brought the Poetry Headline of three award winning poets… the wonders of Pascale Petit, Hannah Lowe and Sandeep Parmar, introduced by Gregory Leadbetter. A thoroughly breathtaking event. Loved the poetry and broke my book budget after spending a long time stroking the covers!
Day 3 finished with Outspoken Press Showcase, back for another Verve after their success last year, one of the biggest events audience talked about in 2017 and all of us in Workshops felt we had truly missed out. Back with words and spirit, introduced by Joelle Taylor the always amazing: Anthony Anaxagorou, Sabrina Mahfouz, Raymond Antrobus, Bridget Minamore and Ollie O’Neill as well as a set from Joelle.
An incredible way to finish a night/day of poetry.
^^^ This one is actually from 2017 – but demonstrates how I felt energy wise for most of the morning, on just 4 hours sleep…
Another wild day at Verve Poetry Festival, an action packed programme and a FULL DAY of poetry. Fortunately, having survived the 4 day run of almost every event last year – this year I was prepared (Trail Mix, seat cushion, ballet pumps, a fresh t-shirt etc.), having said that, I stayed up far too late Friday night writing blog posts and overslept!
This meant I missed Cynthia Miller’s Poetry Breakfast and quite possibly some of the most creative conversations to be had about poetry.
Plus a bit of food (it was 4 days before I had a proper meal)! I did manage to get from bed to the train station in record time and caught the tail end of the event (there was still half an hour of it, but today was a day of Workshops).
Workshop with Karen McCarthy Woolf to start the day – yes please! I won this workshop as a prize for coming 2nd in the Haiku Poetry Slam at Grizzly Pear in December. An amazing event, a fabulous prize and a good way to start the day. The forms she covered were ones I knew (but with a tired brain this was fortunate), her workshop got my mind rolling and resulted in a few works in progress. I was already inspired by the reading from the night before. I just need to book myself some writing time… may use that 20 hour lay over in the summer!
From here I hit Level 6 (inner sanctum) for my 2nd workshop with Sasha Dugdale. I thoroughly enjoyed her set the night before. Her workshop looked at Memorial and writing poems for/to our unsung heroes.
For the first time in ages I found myself unable to complete a poem in the workshop, but do have a skeleton of an idea. I was mightily impressed with the workshop poetry read, there were some highly acclaimed poets in our group.