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Poetry Resolutions

Some writing resolutions for 2014, at the suggestion of Jo Bell

 1. Memorise poetry. Think about memorable spoken-word events and open-mic nights. Which poets made the greatest impact on you? Chances are the ones you remember are the ones who knew their work by heart and so were able to maintain eye contact with the audience, simply because they didn’t have to keep glancing down at their notes every few seconds.

Of course, if this were easy we’d all be doing it – plus I know of some very eminent, published poets who insist on reading from the page. Yet most of us will have memorised some poetry in the dim and distant past, and well-known lines will be firmly lodged in the brain (‘I wandered lonely as a cloud…’’Green eggs and ham…’ etc. etc.).

Surely, as poets shouldn’t we know our own work better than anyone else’s, even if it’s just the poems we tend to read most often?

Goal: Memorise enough poems for my 10-minute slot at The Quiet Compere Tour when it visits Leeds in June.

 

2. Make more use of strict form. When I studied creative writing a few years ago, one of the most enjoyable elements was learning about poetic forms hitherto unknown to me, and then having a go at them. Paradoxically, writing to strict form can often liberate, rather than constrain creativity, and that the structure might actually take the poem places it would never have gone in free verse, yet it can still feel daunting.

My notebooks contain plenty of unfinished poetry long since abandoned as ideas going nowhere, so perhaps revisiting these poems and trying to revitalise them using strict form might be a good place to start.

Goal: Write at least six poems in strict form over the coming year, and post them on this blog.

 

3. Research ways of getting more work published. Note that this doesn’t simply say ‘get more work published’; that’s not only too presumptuous, but also would fail to take account of the fact that I still don’t have much idea how to go about it.

Hence, this resolution is about getting more clued up, discovering what possibilities lie out there – things like pamphlets and chapbooks (are they the same?), poetry magazines etc. I have one self-imposed condition: ‘Published’ for me means work appearing in print – something tangible, that has staples in it and pages you can turn; so online doesn’t count!

Goal: Gain sufficient knowledge so that next year’s resolution is about actually making it happen.

 

And that’s all I‘m going to commit to. The stuff that I do for the Day Job tells me that setting any more than three goals invokes the law of diminishing returns i.e. the more you set, the less likely you’re to achieve. Of course there’s more I want to do – and I may well do it – but in terms of making a public commitment, three’s your lot…! Happy 2014.

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Farewell to Wickedness

It’s over. At an end. Wicked Words is no more; it has ceased to be, it is an ex-spoken word event – and other such Pythonesque clichés…

I’m not sure it’s quite sunk in yet. That was the phrase commonly heard from friends in Seven Arts around 10.30pm on Wednesday, 4 December 2013. Friends who I wouldn’t have met had it not been for Wicked Words; fellow poets I feel proud to call my friends.

Turn the clock back a little over two years. I was doing a Creative Writing course at Leeds University and my then tutor and now friend Cath Nichols suggested a good way of broadening poetic horizons was to seek out local open-mic events – maybe even take part! I sought them out, and realised that, actually, there weren’t that many in Leeds; one stood out in my online search results, though. Described as “Leeds’ longest-running spoken word event” held in Chapel Allerton on the first Wednesday of the month, it was, of course, Wicked Words.

Those who know me well will understand that venturing somewhere new, especially alone, is not easy for me to do, yet I found the courage to go along one particular Wednesday night in early 2011, I think it was. I found a table in the dark near the back of the room, spoke to no-one and scuttled away quickly at the end. Yet I left impressed. Impressed by a certain warmth pervading the evening that I hadn’t expected, by the charisma, humour and general leaping about by one Brendan McPartlan, organiser and compère; impressed by the poetry and the poets who read it, and by how everyone seemed to know each other. I realised I’d discovered something special and wanted to be part of it – the problem was that I felt like the child in the school playground who sees everyone else having fun, but doesn’t quite know how to go about asking to join in…

I was a ‘lurker’ at Wicked Words for longer than I care to admit. In the meantime I’d begun reading at open-mic nights over in Manchester and the North-West, encouraged by friends I’d made in that neck of the woods, so by the time I plucked up the courage to request a slot at Wicked Words I was at least no longer a performance virgin. Also, I’d got to know a few people on the Leeds poetry scene through writing workshops, who also went to Wicked Words – so I knew I wouldn’t be walking into a room full of strangers anymore.

Once I’d taken the plunge I felt welcomed instantly; not only welcomed, but encouraged, supported – made to feel part of a kind of family. There was no turning back. I did a few open-mic slots, and then was flattered and privileged that, as a relative newcomer, Brendan first of all invited me to perform a support slot to the wonderful Tony Walsh, and then recently enquired if I’d like to take part in the final night’s celebration by joining his ‘Wicked Words All-Stars’ on stage; it was an honour to be asked.

The last-ever Wicked Words was something special – an affirmation of everything this night has meant to Leeds for the past ten years, a celebration of Brendan’s hard work, massive effort and sheer enthusiasm put in to make it so. Luke Wright headlined and so had the honour of being the final poet to be heard at Wicked Words, but I’m sure Luke won’t mind me saying that on this occasion the events of the first-half took precedence, and tonight Brendan McPartlan was the real star.

Particular mention must be made here of the unstinting efforts of Greg White in making sure Wicked Words and Brendan had the best possible send-off. I can’t begin to imagine how much time Greg has put in over the past three months or so compiling and producing the one-off anthology Past Wickedness as a farewell gift to Brendan, also the hours spent folding origami birds out of coloured paper – one given to each audience member – on which was printed Greg’s poem Undone, its poignant message reminding us that whatever follows, nothing will ever be quite the same as Wicked Words ever again. Thank you Greg – and I hope you find a good use for the bird-cage!

Brendan’s collaborative poem Words of Advice from my Grandfather was a joy to hear and to be a part of, along with Matthew Hedley Stoppard, Noel Whittall, Greg White, Jonathan Eyre, John Hepworth, Chris Stephenson, Tim Ellis, Sandra Burnett and Jane Kite. I hope that one positive consequence of Wicked Words’ demise is that, now freed from the role of compère, we’ll hear much more of Brendan’s sharp and witty poetry on the spoken-word circuit in Leeds and beyond.

So that’s it – the end of an era. I’ve no doubt that a phoenix will rise – Seven Arts is too good a venue to be lost to spoken-word events – but there will never be another Wicked Words. It’s hard to explain how much it’s meant for me; I’ve loved the poetry, made friends, new opportunities have opened up… but above all, even though a relative latecomer, through Wicked Words I’ve been made to feel welcomed into the Leeds poetry scene, and privileged to be part of something really special.

Thank you Wicked Words, and thank you especially Brendan.

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Some more seasonal poetry…

Smile

Universities and schools all back,
No slack in the system now;
Remember – no-one takes holidays
In November or December.
Roads are jammed, buses rammed
With bodies wrapped in scarves and boots,
Car horns hoot in frustration, drivers express
Vexation at delays. Journeys take twice
Their normal duration – and that’s not nice.
Still, the season of goodwill lies
Just around the bend – a time for friends
And frivolity; so forget the jams, think of
All the jollity to come. Remember – in the end
It’s all worthwhile, so on those cold dark mornings
Don’t wait to be told; turn to a stranger
And – without warning – simply…
SMILE.

© 2013

 

Seasoning at Work

So we’re in the season of huddles and fuddles,
Of team goodwill and Christmas cheer,
As cakes and mince pies add inches
To waists and thighs – yes, it’s that time of year.
Tinsel and baubles will soon appear,
As Secret Santa comes out of his closet
And bonhomie resounds around the place.
The songs of Slade and Wizzard – all that brigade –
Will invade our ears from now until the New Year’s here,
But don’t be too dismayed – it won’t last long,
And before you know it, the tinsel, pies, the songs
Will all be gone but – if you agree –
What say we keep the bonhomie?

© 2013

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Seasonal poetry

Thought it was time I posted some more poetry. This is a (rather pessimistic) seasonal offering…

The November Judgement

I sentence you
To four months’ hard labour
Imprisoned by gloom and darkness,
Surrounded by misty, cold grey days.

Joviality will be tolerated
Only during organised association and recreation
That will mark the half-way point of your sentence;
After this, daylight will be strictly rationed
But brightness will be slowly increased,
And you may be allowed a little colour and warmth.

You should know there can be no leniency
Or remission, as, by the powers vested in me,
The sentence must run its full term;
It is The Law.
All are condemned to endure
The same dull monotony;
All must suffer equally.

This, though, is not an indeterminate sentence;
Each slow day will pass and in good time
You will be sprung from the murk,
Released, rehabilitated – hopefully
More appreciative
Of the light and warmth and freedom
That you took so much for granted
While you had it.
Take him down.

© 2013

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What’s in a name?

“If you ask me my name, take the time to spell it correctly. Take the time to learn to say it correctly, and I’ll do the same with yours.” ~   Icess Fernandez Rojas (Journalist), in response to Starbucks’ practice of writing its customer names on cups – and getting it wrong a lot of the time…

Names

My name is not the same as yours;
Yours is not the same as mine.
So when you ask my name, take time to
Find out how to say it as I like it to be said.
Take time to spell it as I like it to be spelled
And I’ll make sure I tell you how.

Take time and treat my name with some esteem;
Accept my name the way it seems,
Don’t stare at me looking all quizzical;
It’s a name, not something metaphysical.

If you’ve found that it sounds strange to you
Then please – don’t guess at what you’ve heard
Or write down something quite absurd –
A name that certainly isn’t mine,
Take time, and ask me how it’s spelled,
And if you can’t tell first time around
Then ask again, and listen to its sound;
Listen to me, and watch my lips,
Listen to how I carefully pronounce
The vowels, spell out consonants;
It’s important that we get names right,
So take time, all our names are personal;
They may be easy or exceptionally
Difficult to say or spell; some may seem unusual
To you, but every person’s name is precious.

Names should not be objects to be mocked
Or slighted because you can’t be arsed
To get it right; maybe you find it comical –
Reminds you crudely of parts anatomical –
Or conjures innuendo in your mind –
Because I mind, – it winds me up
Because my name belongs to me,
As much a part of my identity,
As how I look, the way I speak and
Where I’m from; names don’t make us freaks,
So don’t tell me my name sounds odd because – guess what?
I’ve had it all my life, so to me – it’s not!

And this is not about pretention or being politically correct,
I simply want to mention that names are things
That we should treat with much, much more respect.

© 2013

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The Self-Promotion Dilemma

I admire the self-confidence of my fellow poets and writers. I admire the way they grasp opportunities to promote themselves and their work, to tell the world about forthcoming appearances at spoken-word events or festivals, or share competition and publication successes, near-misses and honourable mentions. And that’s not intended in any way as being sarcastic – I really do have genuine admiration, because if there’s one element of this writing business I really struggle with, it’s self-promotion.

You see, I’ve never been a naturally competitive person. I appreciate recognition as much as the next person if someone happens to think I’ve done something well – but I don’t enjoy feeling I have to actually compete for praise, or push myself forward to be judged or compared with others. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had more enjoyment from simply taking part in activities, rather than setting out to win or prove I’m better than anyone else.

I know I’m not the only one. Roger McGough sums it up perfectly:

“I have always regarded the creative impulse as something pure and seen a paradox in the need to show off the result, to see it published, sung or hung on the wall… I have never fully resolved the conflict between the privacy of the poet and the public face of the performer…” (Said & Done. Arrow, 2005)

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Roger is one of my poetic heroes and influences. But it does beg the question whether it’s possible to rise in the world of writing and poetry without a certain amount of narcissism.

Maybe I should adopt the philosophy of Neil Innes, and simply take the view that “I’ve suffered for my music, now it’s your turn”, but – seriously – if you are a poet or writer, successful or otherwise, I’d be interested to know how you’ve gone about shutting up that little voice in your head that keeps trying to tell you that really, you should just keep your poetry to yourself unless anyone asks to read or hear it, and ended up believing in your work sufficiently to put all those lovely words out into the world regardless, and sod what anyone else thinks.

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Post Box Poets: 25 July 2013

I’ll be honest: when I first saw the place I wasn’t sure. The Post Box Cafe is in part of what looks like, appropriately enough, an old Post Office and at first glance looked a bit on the compact side for a poetry night – but three hours later I knew that Sarah L Dixon, The Quiet Compere, had found another perfect venue for poetry! What changed my mind? Well, first of all Post Box Poets has exclusive use of the whole café, so the various comings and goings associated with sessions held in pubs and bars (by poets and general public alike!) weren’t there – but neither was the atmosphere completely hushed and sterile, the buzz of passing traffic and life on Wilbraham Road somehow creating the perfect background for urban poetry. Secondly, I quickly realised that its actually its size that makes the Post Box an intimate venue where poet and audience can easily connect; everyone feels part of the poetry, not slightly detached from it as can be the case in some larger venues.

Whether it was that intimacy, or simply that Sarah had chosen her line-up well, the evening simply flew by in a rush of poetry that was variously passionate, comical, touching, gritty, emotional, and often intensely personal. It would be wrong to single out any one poet – all played their part in a wonderful evening of poetic friendship and camaraderie that went by too fast. For the record, though, love and appreciation goes to (in no particular order): Zach Roddis, Cathy Bryant, John Lindley, Mabh Savage, Dominic Simpson, Jimmy Doxford, Steph Pike, Angela Smith and Sarah L. Dixon herself. I feel privileged to have been invited to read alongside such talented poets. Thanks again, Sarah!

I believe Sarah’s intention is for Post Box Poets to replace Lead Poets, and if that’s the case she’s chosen the perfect venue. The Post Box is fully accessible to all and perfect for those travelling by public transport, situated close to Chorlton Metrolink station. Future poetry events are already planned for 30 September and 26 November 2013 – my advice is to get there early, Post Box Poets will be popular!

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