Kultura gig

My second guest performance in a month! They’re like buses aren’t they? I haven’t been to Kultura, so it’s a first for me. I’m told that Kava do lovely food too, if you fancy a bite before the performance.

I’ll be reading at ‘Kultura’

Tuesday 25 November, from 6:30pm for a prompt 7:30pm start

Kava coffee bar,
Todmorden, Halifax Rd, (opposite the Health Centre and Lidl)


The Ted Hughes Festival, 2014

I’ve been invited to be a guest performer at the Ted Hughes Festival this year. Not only is this a cracking little festival, proper intellectual stuff, run entirely by volunteers, but my slot is at the Spoken Word Shindig.

The Spoken Word Shindig has been running for over a year now, on a Tuesday night at Nelson’s Bar in Hebden Bridge, and they’ve had some great guest performers like Char March, followed by open mic. So a festival promoting a dead, white man is combining with living, breathing, hot-off-the-press performance poetry. This is how the scene should be!

Friday 24th October
8pm for 8:30pm start
The Town Hall, Hebden Bridge
Guest Performers: Charlotte Wetton, David Simms, David Nixon.
For spoken word slots, call Winston, 07986 222 678

The Ted Hughes Festival, 2014

In all conscience, I should promote other poets on this blog apart from myself! So here also for your delectation:

Hollie McNish and Anna Freeman
Hebden Bridge Town Hall, 7pm

£10/£7.50 concs
Tickets from http://www.wegottickets.com/TedHughesFestival or from Hebden Bridge Visitors Centre

A chance to see two of the best performance poets around at the moment. This is one not to be missed.

Hollie McNish is a UK poet who straddles the boundaries between the literary, poetic and pop scenes. She has garnered titles like “chick of the week” (MTV), “internet sensation” (Best Daily)” , “really, really amazing” (Davina McCall) and poet Benjamin Zephaniah stated “I can’t take my ears off her”. Her latest poem “Embarassed” was also tweeted to fans by renowned singer Pink. She runs a poetry in education organization Page to Performance and can do 50 keepy uppys on her knees but none on her feet.

Anna Freeman is a multiple slam champion, novelist, creative writing lecturer at Bath Spa University, and an activist for ginger rights. Her novel, The Fair Fight, is a pulsating historical adventure set within the world of female prize-fighters and their patrons in 18thcentury Bristol. The Fair Fight won The Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize 2013 and will be published in August 2014. Her first poetry collection, Gingering the World from the Inside, is published by Burning Eye Books. Her spoken-word-poetry-music show, Hunting Pigs, with Chris Redmond and the Tongue Fu band, will begin a UK tour in Sept. 2014, starting at London Wonderground. ‘She twists up the awkward, confusing and the painful into slick balloon animals’ – Buddy Wakefield ‘A rising star’ – Venue

The Albert Poets – again!

I’m thrilled to have been invited back to read at the Albert pub in Huddersfield. Thrilled, because it is such a good audience. Performance poetry is supposed to reach out, to an extent, to broaden the audience for poetry, the more accessible face of modern poetry. There are some of my poems, perfectly good on the page, that I wouldn’t perform, because they’re hard to take in aurally the first time you hear them. And that’s fine. But you also want an audience that can listen, that’s prepared to put the effort into a more challenging piece. After all, we all like to be appreciated! The other reason I’m looking forward to it, is that I’ll be able to try out 3 brand new performance pieces from my recent writing residency at HSBC bank, (part of the Manchester Literature Festival parnterships).

The Albert Poets meet the second Thursday of every month at 8pm,
at the Albert pub in Victoria Lane, near the library.


Brighouse Arts Festival presents:

Performance Poetry and Open Mic night

with special guests:
Charlotte Wetton
Emma Decent
Steve Nash

The Smith Art Gallery, Halifax Rd, Brighouse, HD6 2AF
Wednesday 18th September, 7.15pm

The Saltaire Poet Share
part of Saltaire Festival

Bring a poem, your own or someone else’s, to share at the read round
or just come and listen to special guests:
Carola Luther
Charlotte Wetton

Saturday 21st September, 4pm
Saltaire Bookshop, Saltaire Road opposite Jane St
just 5 mins walk from the train station, buses 672, 665, 678

Lots on at the festival, check out the programmer and make a day of it!

The Provinces and the Capital

I took advantage of Apples and Snakes’ ‘Go and See’ grants and headed to London. My goal was to check out the London spoken word scene and see how it compared to my native Yorkshire/Lancashire. London’s always ahead of the curve, I reasoned, the cutting edge and the fashionable is always found in the capital. What am I missing out on?

I pondered Chill Pill, Tongue Fu, the Poetry Cafe and in the end, chose Jawdance. It’s a regular night (hosted, coincidentally, by Apples and Snakes) at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green: four invited performers and a generous open mic slot.

Rich Mix is a great venue: the lighting, the stage, the cafe-bar space all make a perfect spoken word setting. Already, I felt like I’d come to the right place. There must have been over 50 people in the audience with 20 ‘open micers’. I have never been to a poetry night in Yorkshire with those numbers! This is why you don’t get a spoken word scene in rural areas. And I learnt that, in London, half an hour is not early to sign up for the open mic! There are 8.2 million people living in London and I was feeling it. I snuck onto the reserve list and was the last open micer of the night.
The music pumped, the compere got us foot-drumming and with the first few ‘open-micers’ I was already impressed. There was a lot of passion on that stage . The body-language, gestures, pauses, comic-timing, stage-presence, the energy and verve of the performers was really something; and these are not easy skills to master. I’ve got to up my game, I thought. Back home, I’m often alone in having learnt my set; at Jawdance only about a quarter read from paper. Expert compere, Joelle Taylor, kept the evening zinging along. Northern organisers take note – the three minute rule is there for a reason! (Oh – and no one introduced their piece with ‘this is one of mine from the 1970s’. I’ve heard that at several events recently, yawn!)

There were three poem-films on the bill. A relatively new art-form that I’d been itching to investigate further. All three were good and I’d love to see more of these at literary festivals and open mic nights, a great way to spread quality spoken word. Films do change the mood though, moving the audience from participators to consumers. As a performer, it would be hard to follow one and have to reel the audience back in.

I was enjoying the evening enormously until I became aware of a slight leadenness in my ears, a certain punch-drunk feeling which intensified as the evening drew on. The influence of rap on performance poetry is well-documented; it’s an influence that, by and large, I welcome. God knows, the shuffling, paper-rustling fogeys mumbling inaudible villanelles needed a kick up the bum. Rap gives performance poetry its energy, confidence and glitz. It makes for arresting delivery but it’s also – there’s no other word – a bit shouty. And after a while this shoutyness becomes frankly annoying. Rich Mix has an excellent sound system, better than I’m used to anyway, every syllable was crystal clear and after a while I wanted to stand up and shout ‘I can hear you, we’re not deaf’.
And the strange thing about rap is that it only seems to have one beat. English poetry has a rich tradition of metre and different metres sound different; from the cheery ta-ta-tum of anapaests to the authoritative da-dum of the iamb. And yet every spoken-worder seemed to have the same rhythm. A ponderous, weighty end-stopping, which, after a while, feels like a small child hitting you repeatedly over the head. We’ve gone full circle to Pope’s criticism: ‘and ten low words oft creep in one dull line’, except we’ve now dispensed with counting to ten and just impose a rhythm, cutting the lines to the desired length with the subtlety of a chain-saw. This heavy end-stopped rhythm seems to say to the audience, ‘this is poetry you know, you can tell because the lines stop before the right-hand side of the page, of course, you can’t see the page which is why I’m chanting it for you, got it?’ Perhaps one of the reason this delivery is so popular is that the enforced rhythm, hammered onto whatever words happen to be in the poem, saves poets the bother of writing in metre – where the natural stresses on the words (e.g. toast-er not toast-er) define the rhythm.
I tend to use the words ‘performance poetry’ and ‘spoken word’ interchangeably. My personal definition has been something like: ‘poetry which is designed to be heard and which is well-performed’, which usually means learning it. Some poems lend themselves to being read in privacy and savoured on the page, while others beg to be out in public, at the centre of attention. Sitting on the tube after Jawdance, I thought, maybe I’ve been wrong about using those words interchangeably, maybe spoken word is not the same as performance poetry. Because the other thing I didn’t see enough of was those techniques that make poetry a joy to read – alliteration, consonance, assonance, rhyme. One of the tenets of modern poetry is that the words should in some way reflect the material: the sibilant S, the harsh violence of the K, the softness of n and m. Patterns of sound-meaning that turn a conversation into a work of art. Not, as Coleridge said, just words in their best order (prose) but the best words in their best order (poetry). And there were points in the evening when I thought, these are not poems, these are rants, this is stand-up comedy without the comedy, mere monologues. Where is the sound-meaning, the musicality that transforms it into poetry? The words so carefully chosen that they don’t just express an idea but sing it. Song lyrics don’t really need to be good because they’ve got a lead guitar, bass, keyboard, singer, drum kit and production team; poets haven’t, we’ve just got the best words in their best order. Many of the performers at Jawdance had jettisoned our heritage of spoken poetry, and in the process, left out those components which turn language into Art. I’m going to go back to saying ‘performance poetry’.

Of course, you can’t do what I attempted and judge a city’s ‘scene’ from one event, but I got a taste. I saw a scene that thrilled me with its passion and professionalism, the quality of the performances and production, all of which made it a cracking night out. This was my idea of a spoken word night, what I’d travelled 169 miles for. I saw some amazing spoken word in London but not enough poetry.

January gig

I’m starting 2013 as I mean to go on – getting my first gig in before the month is out. Saturday 12 January at my beloved Hebden Bridge Trades and Labour Club, or the Trades to you and me.

Whilst on an extraordinarily cold bike ride in December a fellow cyclist and Campersand vocalist asked me to perform at the Campersand and Friends gig. Every year, Campersand start the year by taking over the Trades and ‘organising’ a mad mix of musicians and poets to celebrate the New Year.

And since its January and you’re all skint, it’s free entry.
Doors at 9pm.



Christmas is an unproductive time for writers, all the creativity goes on thinking up alteranatives to bath salts, so this Christmas I will be publishing instead of writing.

A poem of mine is going to appear, on Christmas Day no less, on the Poetry Advent Calendar http://poetryadventcalendar2.blogspot.co.uk/ 

Mark Niel is starting us off on the first day of advent with “Letter to Santa”. Open a window onto a poem everyday throughout December – so concise and yet so Christmassy it’s guaranteed not to interfere with your festive preparations. Chocolate not included.


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