I was lucky enough to complete the manuscript (my first collection) last year. I then sat on it for a while before returning for final edits in Spring 2022. It is now finding a home with a publisher. So it brings me great joy to announce Cafe Writers chose to feature my poem In the Breast Unit as the poem of the month.
It can be hard to find places where writing poems about our bodies is an acceptable read. I am grateful to the team for picking this poem.
Proud to be sharing the space with so many wonderful Poem of the Month Picks.
Three years after the emergence of the global #MeToo movement, we revisit the poems (and poets) behind the #MeToo Women’s Poetry Anthology. Poets Jill Abram, Deborah Alma, Kim Moore, Wendy Pratt, Victoria Bennett, and Jhilmil Breckenridge discuss breaking the silence, whether there is still hope for change, and what needs to happen next for survivors to be heard. Any donations contributed during this event will be given to Women’s Aid.
The proceeds from this event and all proceeds from the book go to Women’s Aid – a charity supporting women in crisis.
Jill Abram is Director of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a collective encouraging craft, community and development. Publications include The Rialto, Magma, Under the Radar, Ink Sweat & Tears, And Other Poems, and Harana.
Deborah Alma is a UK poet and teacher. Deborah is editor of #MeToo: A Women’s Poetry Anthology. Her first full collection, Dirty Laundry, is published by Nine Arches Press and she now runs the Poetry Pharmacy in Shropshire.
Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling (Seren, 2015) won the 2016 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Her second collection All The Men I Never Married will be published by Seren in October 2021.
Wendy Pratt’s latest collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet award. She is a poet, author and workshop facilitator and the creator and editor of Spelt magazine.
Her most recent poetry pamphlet, To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2020, and is an invitation to witness to the intimate moments of dying, telling the story of a relationship between women that is transformed through grief.
Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist. She is the founder of Bhor Foundation, an Indian charity, which is active in mental health advocacy. Her debut poetry collection is Reclamation Song.
#Me Too was first coined in 2006 by New Yorker Toronto Burke. In 2017 following major press coverage (Harvey Weinstein) the # was used over 12 million times in a couple of weeks. Deborah Alma, after following the news, put out a message on Facebook asking who HADN’T experienced… and only 3% hadn’t. And actually in further conversation, this 3% had as well. The book was published in 2018 (Fair Acre Press), in a time when the #me too movement was hitting everyone’s radar.
Sadly, it is still a necessary message to get out to the world. More so since Lockdown.
I went to a few #Me Too readings when the book was launched. My submission didn’t make it between the cover there were hundreds of submissions and the book couldn’t accommodate them all, so Victoria Bennett stepped in and published them on the Wild Women Press website (mine can be found here along with many others). It was also included in a body of work exhibited as part of the ASKING FOR IT exhibition in 2019.
It was hearing Kim Moore read from The Art of Falling, which enabled me to find the strength to write it into existence in the first place.
This, I knew would be a brilliant reading and it was with lots of Q&A too and because of the weight of the subject matter they finished the event off with a touch of self-care. A question to every member of the panel.
This was an incredible workshop and I am so glad I didn’t miss it! If you suffer chronic pain and are a writer, go and watch this session if you can.
I can finally see why 2019 was NOT a creative year for me.
February arrived and I could barely believe January was over! Another month fully booked and brimming with adventure… and more snow! After suffering several lack work years, work came like buses and I said YES to it all. So right from the get go I was aware of pacing myself. I worked full time for a couple of weeks, balanced deadlines with new ventures, took on a new role and celebrated Mr G’s birthday, Valentine’s and other family celebrations and finished the month off with a Poetry Festival! Perfect! This is certainly one of the longest review posts for a while, you may want to munch through it in several sittings!
The first day of the month threw treasure at me, I started a new course with Tawnya Renelle – Experimenting with… it was inspiring as ever and started me in a new direction with some material I have been chewing over for a while. I even created a sketch! There is a shiny new website/platform and lots of resources to get my teeth into (especially now I have finished chewing)!
I also had some happy news hit the inbox, after a two year hiatus (health + pandemic) I am back with the DAN team supporting them with an online Poetry Extravaganza again. AND…. last year I completed the Poetry Renewed Project and my commission with Elephant’s Footprint to produce 10 animated Poetry Films. One of these, ‘Territory’ has been shown at the ReelpoetryFestival in Houstonthis month (24th Feb.) – the joy is abundant! https://awritersfountain.wordpress.com/2021/02/27/reelpoetry-festival-houston-tx/
I made some submissions with close deadlines and applied for more work. Which was time consuming and exciting. I had proof copies of Recoil 12 back from MullaMulla Press, I had a poem accepted by Literary AlchemyPress, an online magazine I discovered last year. They have taken a poem I wrote in an Angela France workshop and one I am particularly fond of. In addition to that, by publishing it they have become an International Press, which is brilliant for them!
Connect Dudley, (a project I was commissioned for back in May 2020 during the 1st Lockdown) is coming to the third leg. Rick Sanders facilitated community workshops where participants wrote letters over several weeks, in the 2nd leg Rick and I turned these letters into poems and shared them with the participants. We also completed an interview with the funders, CoLab and recorded audio of our work (which is connected to the High Street poems via QR codes).
Rick is now in possession of some very shiny and graphically exciting posters of the poems which will go up in empty shops in Dudley’s High Street over the next 5-10 weeks and I am booked for a reading later this month which will be a webinar and Q&A. It was a wonderful project that has helped many people and I am honoured to have been a part of it.
I caught an interview withCasey Bailey – Birmingham Poet Laureate, on Midlands News, which made me happy and I had my final workshop class with Zelda Chappel. It was on Life and Death – so not a light subject but it was a wonderful few hours, I have loved being part of this group and the work we have covered has uncovered some of those poems that have been living inside me. Now the hard work begins to get them fully formed.
I would recommend Zelda’s classes they are great fun and she has a wonderful way of facilitating 2 hours of intense writing and reading in such a relaxed and caring way you leave in a state of cleansed tiredness, definitely lighter and happier and with ink that is worth page space. It has been a January/February highlight. You can book the full course of just choose a week that you feel pulls you in. Most of our group did all 4 sessions. I first met Zelda through Jo Bell’s 52 project back in 2014, we read at the same event in London and have been following each other ever since. Do check out her poetry.The Girl in the Dog tooth Coat by Zelda Chappel.
I had the pleasure of attending a Book Launch, Nature at a Cost a first collection for Annie Ellis. I was tired but I wouldn’t have missed this Launch for the world. I am delighted for Annie. It was a lovely to watch her excitement as Guest Readers shared some of their own poetry and read poems picked from new collection. Annie’s Special Guests were Ben Ray, Anna Saunders, Zoe Brooks and Ankh Spice.
I recently discovered we landed in poetry around the same time, when I first met Annie (back in 2015), I thought she was an established writer. Annie’s collection has been described by Ankh Spice as ‘a clarion call to find the edges we have forgotten’, and by Ben Ray as ‘a haunting love letter to the natural world’.
The weekend saw more events and workshops withRedwing, Rakaya Fetuga & Sarah L. Dixon. Nine Arches Press celebrated the launch of Jacqueline Saphra‘s One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets. I watched the conception of this back in 2020 and have read a good number of Jacqueline’s sonnets, several poets joined her but most managed 80 something sonnets. This is not just another collection of Lockdown thoughts and poems, these are sonnets that in years to come will form a historical record and someone suggested may linger in our heads like lines of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It was also a treat to hear her Guest Poets: Anja Konig, Miriam Nash, Jacob Sam-La Rose and video readings from Ian McMillan & Naomi Shihab Nye.
If you missed it you can treat yourself now.
Sunday saw a warm gathering for Live from The Butchery and some stunning performances by: Annie Freud, Jane Burn & Anja Konig. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it felt like the perfect end to the weekend, except there was more!
I have a few favourite landing places in America that I’ve discovered throughout the lockdowns and many offer free events. I am lucky enough to be working again but after the past 2 years the surplus spends are absorbed by previous bills so I am still not in a position to pay booking fees let alone ticket costs. Which is a great shame as there are lots of opportunities around at the moment – including a workshop with Carolyn Forché at the Kendal Poetry Festival. A festival I will get time to write about soon as I’ve spent an amazing 9 days with Clare Shaw and Kim Moore to complete the month!
I spent an inspiring night with Carolyn Forché & Lori Soderlind, thanks to Hudson Valley Writers Center. It was a deeply moving and inspiring event and I loved both readings. I have become a big fan of Carolyn’s work over this pandemic year. I received an order for In the Lateness of the World (Penguin Press, 2020) for Christmas and it should be arriving next week!
Carolyn Forché is an award winning author of poetry and prose. Renowned as a “poet of witness,” Carolyn Forché is the author of five books of poetry. Her most recent collection, In the Lateness of the World (Penguin Press, 2020), is a tenebrous book of crossings, of migrations across oceans and borders but also between the present and the past, life and death.
I loved discovering Lori and the story behind her work.
I wrote a proposal which took a lot longer than I expected. I’ve written a few applications this year and one of these was for Mass Poetry Festival in May. I was keeping my fingers crossed for a positive outcome on this and gathering some of the poets together again. Unfortunately it was rejected via a very kind email. Four years ago I started my Laureate Legacy Project (2017), a Transatlantic poetry exchange with Worcester, UK and Worcester MA, A Tale of Two Cities. You can read all about it here. And read the publication, Special Issue of Contour here. Many of the poets have gone on to republish their poems in other anthologies and collections.
In the UK we launched the project at Droitwich Arts Festival 2018 as part of the Poetry Extravaganza event, USA had an event at The Sprinkler Factory in September and then in 2019 it was part of the Evesham Festival of Words. I had hoped to role out a lot more with this massive project, there were plans but due to health issues and then COVID nothing has happened since. Evesham was booked in the summer of 2018 when I was 100% fit and not expecting an operation, it was only through the support of friends that I managed to get to the Festival and undertake the organisation of the event. So when I saw the call for MASS Poetry Festival I thought it was destiny! The application took some time, I was delighted to obtain a reference and all was well. I have been checking the inbox for a while. Maybe more opportunities will present themselves. Due to the pandemic I am back in touch with the WCPA who provided the rich American pool of poets for this project. So maybe when I am less busy I can organise something myself.
I missed the Cafe Writers Competition Winner Readings with Helen Ivory (Judge), I thought I had booked a ticket, I had registered interest in the event but not got a ticket. I was a actually double booked so would have missed the start of it, but kicked myself for not keeping tabs. This is overwork tiredness. It continued the next day. I had booked for a presentation (one which was recorded) and decided by the time I made it home I was too tired for any screen time. I forgot I have a Tuesday night class at 9PM (in USA) and was asleep before 7:30 pm. This week I have been putting the finishing touches together for Mr. G’s Lockdown birthday and Valentine’s Day as well as working on projects, writing applications and advertising copy.
Midweek I managed to attend Sheffield Libraries workshop, it was a writing week filled with food. Tawnya’s Experimenting with… class on Monday was Food and this Recipes and Memories workshop, facilitated by the wonderful Central Librarian, Claire Walker, links to a project later in the month. I spent a couple of hours in good company recollecting all sorts of stories that were decades thick in dust. It was inspiring and I hope to write up a couple of poems. It was also nice to see some of my 52 Poetry friends at the workshop and everyone shared such inspiring memories that many of us left with pages and pages of notes after the 2 hour workshop finished. At Midnight there was a USA reading, but I was asleep long before then.
On Thursday it was Worcester SpeakEasy, it was a wonderfully tender and entertaining evening, which included an impromptu ‘hat off’, bountiful love, valentine and non-valentine poems and we had a band too! I finished working full time and celebrated with Wolverhampton Literature Festival, Food for Thought poetry cafe, Poet’s Cafe featuring Corrupted Poetry a collective of writers, Nic Stringer, Michelle Penn & Fiona Larkin.
My 2nd proposal written and sent a week ago was acknowledged with an incredibly kind rejection email. They have kept my contact details and had over 3000 applications, they said my detailed pitch was well written, so some upskill desk time & pitching if nothing else. It’s a shame as it sounded like an exciting project to be involved in. Hopefully it has future-paved something!
This weekend was Mr G’s birthday and Valentine’s so I originally avoided booking anything in, until a conversation made me realise that 48 hours with me was not the way he planned to mark the weekend (harsh), so I booked a few bits into the last days of the week. On Saturday I went to Rakaya Fetuga‘s workshop and then the Annual Lucille Clifton Celebration: Today We Are Possible. It was a moving event full of tenderness and power – the best combination, stories and poems and memories of Lucille.
I was glad not to miss Charley Barnes‘ Book Launch for her Poet Laureate Collection, Lore. A collection which feeds more than her obsession with flowers and footnotes. I will be adding a post about this soon.
The Worcestershire LitFest competitions opened and I spent several hours web-building. This week was marked to work on one main project. I managed a few last minute submissions and was looking forward to Cheltenham Poetry Festival who had Kim Addonizio & Christina Thatcher booked. It was an incredible event. Epic in the truest sense of the word. I will be writing February blogposts long into March!
I had a project (which has been postponed) booked in for this week so hadn’t filled the diary. I am spending most of the week working on a manuscript which is due to be submitted. Looming deadlines are always a good reason to set to work. I have been working on this since last year, but decided not to sub it out in the end in the Autumn as I had originally planned. The poems involved have been written since 2019 and I am keeping my fingers crossed. It feels strange as in pre-pandemic times there would have been bountiful events to sell my previous book Patience and I am aware I have stock upstairs, I have sent any interest since March 2020 to the publisher website.
I recently discovered these lunch time readings, PM for UK. A lovely way to finish a day of one workshop, one class and one group.Jennica Harper tender poems touched us all deeply and listening to Frances Boyle force with nature, family, grief was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these two Canadian poets. The Q&A was interesting, I love listening to the poet’s process.
Frances Boyle’s first poetry collection, Light-carved Passages was published by Buschek Books in 2014, and her second, This White Nest, by Quattro Books in 2019. She also writes fiction and has published a collection of Short Stories and a Novella.
Jennica Harper is the author of three previous books of poetry: Wood (Anvil Press, 2013), which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay prize, What It Feels Like for a Girl (Anvil Press, 2008), and The Octopus and Other Poems (Signature Editions, 2006).
I often miss Cafe Muse nowadays due to work, Canadian events tend to be on in the early hours here in the UK. But I was still awake so I went to listen to the reading series Poets Vs the Pandemic. And I was glad I did, because I got to hear some great poetry from all three poets. Some of the poems were amazing.
Grace Cavalieri is Maryland’s Tenth Poet Laureate. She’s written 22 books and chapbooks of poetry; and 26 produced short-form and full-length plays. Her newest poetry publications are What The Psychic Said (2020;) Showboat,(2019;) and Other Voices, Other Lives (ASP Pub. 2018.) Her latest play was “Quilting The Sun,” Theatre for The New City, NYC, 2019. Grace founded and still produces “The Poet and the Poem” on public radio, celebrating 44 years on-air in 2021. The show’s recorded at the Library of Congress and transmitted via Pacifica Network.
Diane Wilbon Parks founded The Write Blend collective in 2018. She is a visual poet and artist who has published two collections of poetry, and has read widely as a featured poet, radio show guest poet and interviewee on The Poet and the Poem national broadcast from the Library of Congress. Her artwork has been displayed widely. She lives in Prince George’s County, MD.
ROSE SOLARI is the author of three collections of poetry, The Last Girl, Orpheus in the Park, and Difficult Weather, the one-act play, Looking for Guenevere, and the novel, A Secret Woman. She has lectured and taught writing workshops at many institutions, including the University of Maryland, College Park, MD; St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD; and the University of Oxford’s Centre for Creative Writing in Oxford, England. Her awards include the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize, an EMMA award for excellence in journalism, and multiple grants. In 2010, she co-founded Alan Squire Publishing. Rose Solari lives in Bethesda, MD.
I booked tickets for Rita Dove and Terence Hayes and fell asleep before Jane Hirshfield‘s event Poetry and the Wild with the Natural History Institute. I caught up with a recording of it, another event which deserves an entire blogpost. It’s on the list!
I received some very sad news about our Poets In Motion teacher Celena Diana Bumpus, who passed away along with her mother, Shirley Bumpus. It has been an honour to have known Celena for almost a year, she was a creative person full of light and such a connector in these difficult times. Memorials have been organised. Words are the only fitting way for me to remember her and her generous spirit, spreading love and vision, globally. Her emails bore the signature ‘Be the inspiration the world needs‘. At the end of month I was reunited with classmates via email and we’ve decided to complete the collective unity poem Celena was working with us on.
I recently discovered Live Canon’s Lunchtime Reading Series, I went to the 4th one (I missed the 5th one, which had a great line up as I was at work). I am hoping there may be more in the future. They are just an hour and a perfect poetry lunch. I listened to with Adham Smart, Robin Houghton, Gillie Robic and Laura Theis
Friday night saw the Launch of Kendal Poetry Festival, a fabulous reading from Bernadette Mayer, followed by listening to the winning poems from the Pre-Ralphaelite Society.
The weekend saw the beginning of 9 days of early morning light workshops alternating between Clare Shaw and Kim Moore. These have been wonderful and productive. This weekend saw the first one with Clare followed by a morning with Kim on Sunday. I had a rehearsal for Connect Dudley. I went back to Kendal Poetry Festival for a Workshop and two readings: Hafsah Aneela Bashir, who I discovered last year through the Jerwood Arts events and Jackie Hagan who I have had the pleasure of watching LIVE several times before. Both were incredible events and will appear in my KPF post when I get around to working through the February list!
I finished my Saturday night with Rakaya’s weekly workshop and the Oystercatcher reading, which I was especially pleased to be available to attend as I was missing Vahni Capildeo at KPF. It was a powerful night of work with: Lee Duggan, Zoe Skoulding & Vahni Capildeo.
Sunday saw me back at Kendal Poetry Festival for the early morning writing session with Kim Moore and a reading from These Are the Hands the NHS anthology which came out last year. I will write more on this event. I spent the day building websites, workshops and going to Claire Dyer‘s Book Launch of Yield and trying to squeeze every last drop of freedom from the night. Then that was my week off work, gone.
I was back at work, missed deadlines, completed a week at Kendal Poetry Festival, made a performance/event video (not done one of those for a while), did some classes, had an emotional Worcester 42 in tribute to Kieran Davis, we all shared some of his poems and our memories of him, it was a moving experience. By Wednesday it was all I could do to stay awake after work, I had a fun reading event with Rick Sanders to launch the Connect Dudley Exhibition and had an animation shown in the REELpoetry Festival the same day.
On Thursday I managed to get to a Finding the Words, to hear readings from Gaia Holmes, Natalie Rees and Miles Salter.
It was a great reading and I listened to some inspiring, humour filled and new (to me) poetry which I loved. Kirsten Luckins also had her Book Launch with Guest Readers, it was a real treat to see her in a real book shop!
After work on Friday I managed to get to a panel discussion at Kendal Poetry Festival – Rising to the Challenge: Poetry in the Age of Covid, which was brilliant. I had a workshop and a reading cancelled and was relieved as I needed some time away from the desk. Saturday and I FINALLY made it back to Australia to the Perth Poetry Club – that had been a long time coming too. It will be no surprise that most weekends involve waking up later than 6 AM and so I often miss these by the time I surface after a late Friday night (or even an early one). Still just to wound off the month perfectly, I made it! After a great morning of poetry I joined Kim Moore for her final KPF early morning write. I spent most of the time offline and popped on for RakayaFetuga‘s workshop and to be WOWed by the UoB Slam Team! More to follow.
Sunday marks the last day of Kendal Poetry Festival and I got up to write (for the final festive writing) with Clare Shaw. I have a workshop this evening and plan to spend the rest of the day as Sunday’s should be! Feels like I need a big lie down in March! I am taking a more relaxed approach to filling the diary as it is already full with a desk schedule I need to keep and the last month of contracted work.
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!
Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge first published in 1798, changed the course of British poetry. Growing up in the Lake District, Wordsworth set out to use the everyday language he heard around him in his poems in order to make them accessible to a wider audience. Both poets drew inspiration from seeing a return to the original state of nature, in which people led a purer and more innocent existence The word Lyrical linked their poems to ancient rustic bards, while Ballad refers to an oral storytelling tradition. Both poets used rural life and country people as the subject of their poetry which was a marked shift from what had come before.
To mark the 250 anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth, four leading poets Zaffar Kunial, Kim Moore, Helen Mort and Jacob Polley read new lyrical ballads inspired by the ideas in the original collection. Each of the contemporary poets have strong links to Cumbria and the Lake District and their poems give us a glimpse into life in the county now.
Produced by Lorna Newman and Susan Roberts
A BBC North production.
What Verve did really well and the secret behind the magic of the festival was the fusion between Spoken Word and Poetry. I always knew this was possible and the team proved it. What I really loved was people’s reaction to Spoken Word – those who had not experienced it before or wouldn’t brave a city event, found that they loved it.
There was plenty of talk over the weekend of the age demographics for both types of event but by the end of the weekend the spaces were filled with a wide range and people began to understand that it doesn’t matter. They stopped seeing it. If poetry is to thrive we need to have this commitment and enthusiasm for bridging a gap that technically doesn’t have to exist. It of course depends on what you like and I am just happy that I immerse in both forms comfortably.
To come from the relative quiet of the 2nd floor Festival Marquee to the loud, riotous mouth of the 1st floor Bar Stage and immerse ourselves in foot stamping, witness the clicking of appreciate and the howls after every poem performed was, even for a veteran of the spoken word scene, a bit of a culture shock. Like hitting London after a long weekend in the Isle of Wight!
I have been to slams, I have even braved one as a contestant. Now that I know work by heart I may brave some in the future. I had never been to a Dice Slam and I appreciate the Dadaism of scoring through chance, a roll of the dice. It made me feel sorry for the contestants with scores as low as 3 when their performances were clearly double figures, but on the other hand it took away that horrible scoring process that is always subjective at such events.
Toby Campion, Vanessa Kissule, Skye Hawkins, Charley Genever and Kareem Parkins-Brown were the contestants and I looked forward to every performance as none are names I know. My experience of Spoken Word is bound to the city and some of the big names who headline throughout Poetryville. I love festivals for the potential of meeting and watching new to me poets.
This was an incredibly lively event, hosted by Amerah Saleh, who is a poet I know from her days with Beatfreaks and on the circuit of Birmingham. I first saw her perform at Mouth & Music on home turf. She was also one of four Podium Poets at this year’s festival. The others were Helen Calcutt, Jasmine Gardosi & Geraldine Clarkson.
We were introduced to the judges who all performed. Anna Freeman, a lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, she is also a multi-winning slam poet and if that wasn’t enough she is also a novelist. http://www.annafreemanwriter.com/
In a peak of genius which was in keeping with the Dadaism of Dice Slamming, Dan brought this book along with him to use as a judging tool. requesting page numbers from the audience before scanning the page for relevance or reading non-relevance to justify the scores. Sometimes the universe worked and the reading was as apt as a fortune cookie fortune… other times more of a Christmas cracker joke.
Memorable, surrealistic performance… ‘what kind of 90s feminist, Disney character sandwich filler are you?’
Who after years of not getting to see seems to be in my life right now as much as full meals. (Yesterday I had my first proper dinner for a week, so I am suggesting Luke pops up in my schedule weekly/monthly and not everyday… his family would have something to say about that I am sure!) If you haven’t discovered Luke yet, please do.
They had the tough job of validating dice scores and they did so with hilarious monologues/comments of worth and woe. As entertaining as the performers, although the performers threw us some very serious poem curve balls too.
The five featured poets are all ridiculously talented writers and performers, and will converge on Birmingham from every corner of the country. It will be the first time Sky Hawkins (the North), Toby Campion (the Midlands), Kareem Parkins-Brown (London), Charley Genever (the South East), and Vanessa Kisuule (the South West) share the same stage. You may have seen some of them individually, of course, but the Dice Slam at Verve Festival really is a rare opportunity to check the pulse of poetry on a national scale at a single event. And to stop you feeling homesick, the local touch will be provided by our host, Birmingham’s own poetry powerhouse Amerah Saleh.
Toby Campion reminded me of my time living in Leicester, he was very excited to be part of the Slam and grabbed hearts with his Midlands Poem. A conversation with the North and South… ‘you never acknowledge the Midlands, despite having been attached for thousands of years!’
Sky Hawkins opened the night with spectacularly hard hitting poetry. ‘Do not let the wolves teach your sons… especially if your sons are half wolves themselves.’ She was the overall winner. Receiving a massive 11 points from the dice.
Charley Genever stormed it- her Meal Deal poem went down particularly well. I liked the darkness of her poetry and that stunning flame/net mesh dress. (I know we shouldn’t belittle women by commenting on their fashion. I will mention Kareem’s bright orangey puffer jacket for balance here.) ‘A woman consumes in shades…’
Kareem Parkins-Brown performed his cake poem to great response. ‘I’d risk it for some lemon drizzle..’ and of course it opened the debate over Jaffa Cakes (biscuit)! Listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/kareempb/cake (WARNING: Contains swearing, but you will hear how much the audience enjoyed his set).
Vanessa Kissule also pulled incredible set out of the bag having already enjoyed all other performances. I was immersed in the moment and was delighted to get to meet her briefly after the show. ‘Youth is made for bright colours and hemlines that hug upper thighs’…
It was a fantastic second night at the festival.
Dice Slam originated in the Netherlands when Bernhard Christianssen tried the format for the first time. There has only ever been one in the UK before and that was 6 years ago. (Before I hit the poetry scene or even started writing again.) No doubt it was brought to you by Apples & Snakes/ Bohdan Piasecki.
I really wanted to create this post Friday night, but I was too tired. I have had 7AM alarm calls and 36 hours clocked at Verve in contrast to 14 hours sleep over 3 nights. I really wanted to post whilst the adrenaline was my driving force because my memories and emotions are still connected at that point.
Day 2 was another all evening event including: Kim Moore, Mona Arshi, Katrina Naomi, Toby Campion, Vanessa Kissule, Skye Hawkins, Charley Genever and Kareem Parkins-Brown in two separate events, both of which I was really looking forward to.
The programme is amazing and there are so many poets involved. A year in planning and such a smoothly operated inaugural festival… so smooth in fact that some people have mistakenly thought it has been running for years. I keep telling the team what a great job they are all doing and there is the proof! ^^^
I bought a festival pass, but had I been ticketing each event I would definitely have bought tickets for the first 4 events of the festival (Thursday & Friday night).
We started with a reading from Kim Moore, Mona Arshi and Katrina Naomi, three multi-award winning poets, this event was sponsored by Birmingham City University and introduced by Jonathan Davidson, who also ran the Q&A.
I enjoyed the readings and discovering more about the poets, drawing parallels with my own decisions. I enjoyed them talking about Birmingham and how much the city has changed. I remember when I first came back after a decade away and the whole town had found ‘sparkle’, I lost my way, most of my landmarks and subways had disappeared.
Last time I heard Kim Moore read was at Swindon Poetry Festival last year. Mona Arshi also read at Swindon, which is where/when I discovered her and her beautiful work. I was in a Master Class with Daljit Nagra and wasn’t able to meet her properly or buy her book as we had to rush back to our notebooks.
Kim Moore read from The Art of Falling, Seren Books. I loved hearing her teaching the trumpet days stories, I know what it is to have 30 children all with violins and at least 8 of them attempting to make the worst noise because the last thing they want to do is play it! Kim and I have both made huge decisions leaving full time teaching to be poets. I really wanted to buy her book in Swindon but I bought so many that I had to draw the line somewhere. I particularly liked ‘All the Men I Never Married’.
Mona Arshi read from Small Hands, Pavilion Poetry Liverpool University Press. Mona talked about the form used with poems in this collection, the ghazal, originally an Arabic form, her passion evident. She shared ‘Hummingbird’ an early poem of hers that she has stopped reading. She talked about writing about her twins and at the mention of the ‘Jinn Spirit’ a decoration fell down. A lingering line ‘essence of girl darkness…’
Katrina Naomi was my wild card, my new to me poet. I love festivals for this reason. It was a delight to hear her read. She opened her set with a poem about her mother, which focussed on one of those 70s swimming hats with the flowers all over them. Katrina read from The Way the Crocodile Taught Me also Seren Books.
Listening to all three women sparked inspiration. I am hoping to write some Nan poems, play with some new forms, look at using repetition successfully and probably some poems about boys.
These poets gave us their real insides tonight, I do not just mean ‘spilled guts’, I am talking about the honesty and truth. They could have chosen far less exposing poems to share but they gave us the blade edge.
Jonathan Davidson asked questions at the end and we heard from each poet about how they got into poetry. Mona returned to it during her difficult pregnancy (I returned through illness), Katrina said she fell into poetry by mistake (which is what I always say about teaching) and Kim was squeezing it in around the day job (which is my current transition, although I have graduated with book ending my week with writing days).
“It’s an exciting adventure.” Kim Moore – on poetry.
“Poetry is transformative. Poetry discovers you, you have to write it. It’s a compulsion.” Mona Arshi
At the end I planned to talk to all three poets. Which I did. I also bought copies of all three books using Christmas money.